Europe in 2014 portrays different meanings. It means a large single market with a stimulating competitive environment, both capable of generating prosperity and technological innovation. It means a social model founded on individual rights, which has given rise to a degree of social cohesion that hasn’t been equalled anywhere else in the world. It means a great power that can play a significant role to the world stage. In recent months it has also meant the challenge of the single currency. But more than anything else, today, Europe means our future.
MHRA was one of the leading lobby groups supporting Malta’s membership in the EU when this matter was still a controversial issue. Today, 10 years later, MHRA is satisfied to note that we have now a common consensus. Our members are now debating together what is best for the industry’s future.
Feedback received by most of our MEP candidates has been tinged by local issues rather than European, but this was to be expected. The fact, however, remains that Europe is part of our social and economic fabric and is today an integral part of our future. When one considers that we have six Maltese MEPs out of the 751 who will get elected, it becomes even more evident that we need to make the right choices and have the best brains representing us there.
Our vision for Europe is based on the need that business has to regain competitiveness to become sustainable. Business is not a cash cow to finance red tape, inefficiencies and corruption. Red tape, inefficiencies and corruption, however, are poison for the economy and consequently for the social agenda of Europe.
Economic competitiveness will lead to more and better jobs, a more secure and feasible social agenda and significantly a feel-good factor among European citizens – the foundations for economic growth.
Tourism has proved to be a key economic driver and job creator when the rest of the industries were crumbling across Europe over the past five years. Viewed from this perspective, tourism has positioned itself as key to the realisation in today’s realities of the European dream as was envisaged by the likes of Monnet, Schuman and the many other European giants who through years crafted a sui generis Union.
Collectively, we must therefore aim to secure a more competitive tourism sector regulated by smarter legislation and policies that embrace the subsidiarity principle, free from red tape, and that has easier access for European funds. It can only make sense to focus and invest in industries that provide significant returns in all economic and social aspects.
Significantly this vision is critical for Malta when one considers that tourism represents 30 per cent of GDP and 35 per cent of government’s cumulative revenues, substantially more than most other EU countries. In this perspective and looking ahead to the future, we as Malta need to see more value added from our MEPs on this front.
We also need concrete action to facilitate the entrance of tourists to Europe through the use of intelligent technical solutions to facilitate visa procurement, in particular for all BRICS
MHRA pledges to support them through our offices and networks in Brussels to push for the tourism agenda, in particular in promoting the Mediterranean dimension to tourism and hospitality. This is in line with our vision of setting up the Mediterranean Tourism Forum in Malta, because apart from being European, we are also Mediterranean.
We also expect our MEPs to lobby for the creation of an intergroup solely dedicated on tourism in the EP to include all relevant stakeholders. The aim of the intergroup will be to monitor all political developments with a likely impact on tourism sectors and ensure their interests are taken into account.
We are also expecting that one of our elected MEPs, with the support of all our political parties, commits to participate in the Transport and Tourism Committee, while all the other elected MEPs keep in mind the tourism agenda while working in the other committees.
Tourism impacts and is impacted in turn by so many other legislations in various areas. For new and better jobs our MEPs need to understand that flexibility of working time arrangements is crucial for the maintenance of service within the hospitality industry.
Specifically, our elected MEPs cannot accept that our restaurants are made to pay a fee covering the cost of inspections – one of the legislations that is to be enacted shortly. Our elected MEPs must also ensure that any future EU legislation should not result in an effective ban on the use of fresh food.
Our future MEPs should also work hard to ensure fair competition in online distribution and in stopping the uncontrolled growth of the many unlicensed operations.
The future Regulation for Data Protection should not impose new obligations on the industry, especially the requirement to appoint a data protection officer. Tourism and catering operators need clear regulation of the audiovisual sector. The legal regime applicable to hotel bookings covered by the new package travel directive should not be less favourable than the existing legal framework.
Similarly, interchange fees must come down as these violate competition law, increase prices and are well above the real cost of processing cards.
We also need concrete action to facilitate the entrance of tourists to Europe through the use of intelligent technical solutions to facilitate visa procurement, in particular for all BRICS. Last but not least, maintain reduced Vat rates for tourism!
MHRA will pursue this communication process with the MEPs throughout the coming five years to ensure continuity and results. Indeed, the challenges ahead are not few and easy but MHRA remains positive that Europe is our future.
Paul Bugeja is the president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association.
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