These two days the Heads of Government of the 28 EU member states are meeting in Brussels. Although the agenda that has been circulated does not mention immigration, this item is likely to feature prominently in the discussions.
In fact the official agenda mentions three items that are all economic in nature and hence of relevance for this column.
The items are the digital economy, innovation and services; growth competitiveness and jobs; and the economic and monetary union. These are all items that are of direct relevance to the Maltese economy and we need to ensure that we protect our patch accordingly.
It is up to us as a country to start positioning ourselves in a manner that will help us exploit the opportunities that will arise for our economy
With regard to the digital economy, innovation and services, there is a great deal of talk on the creation of EU-wide systems.
So the European Council shall be discussing the Digital Single Market by 2015, the completion of the European Research Area by 2014 and the future development of the Innovation Union, and the outcome of the Licences for Europe process.
The use of italics is purely mine as they highlight the development of what may be referred to as a technology union. The importance of such a union for Malta lies in the fact that our economy has become increasingly reliant on technology development.
Many segments of the financial services sector would not be located in Malta if they did not have access to broadband technology locally. That access to broadband should not be taken for granted, and we need to work hard to maintain it.
The manufacturing sector continues to move up the value chain and as such, Malta’s participation in a European Research Area is required to stimulate the initiation of innovation projects locally.
The Licences for Europe process is likely to create competition for local services providers but it will also open up new opportunities for them.
Some of the EU projects in this area are particularly relevant to Maltese businesses.
For example, the European Commission is publishing a blueprint to help micro-enterprises and small businesses in Europe’s regions to grow by using digital technologies. To ensure that funding allocated to SMEs to enhance their e-commerce and ICT capacities is spent quickly and in full, innovation vouchers worth up to €10,000 will be made available for purchasing and learning to make use of digital (ICT) services.
The EU is moving fast towards a situation where the concept of e-commerce dies, for the very simple reason that the only way of doing commerce shall be electronic and so we will not need to define it as e-commerce.
This in turn is likely to have a positive impact on competitiveness and job creation.
The discussion on growth, competitiveness and jobs is likely to centre on what has been tagged as the Investment Plan for Europe, the Youth Employment Initiative and the simplification of regulation. The emphasis is to target initiatives at small and medium-sized enterprises.
However, the fundamental underlying principle in this discussion is the need to implement economic structural reforms to make it more attractive for businesses to invest and to employ people.
With regard to the economic and monetary union, the EU Heads of Government will discuss progress towards a Banking Union, the social dimension of the EMU and the strength-ening of economic policy co-ordination. What we are driving towards is again an element of harmonisation.
So the aspect of a single supervisory mechanism for the banking sector shall be discussed.
They will also talk about stronger surveillance of budgetary policies of eurozone member states.
These are both policy responses to the financial sector crisis and the sovereign debt crisis that have had a severe impact on a number of member states.
One area that we should keep our eye on is tax harmonisation.
This can severely damage our economy and so it should be a no-go area for us.
The news that will make the media headlines at the end of the European Summit are unlikely to be about any of these three items, but the discussion thereon shall set the direction for the years to come.
It is up to us as a country to start positioning ourselves in a manner that will help us exploit the opportunities that will arise for our economy.