Our entrepreneurs are accustomed to hear about the opportunities affor-ded to them by the European Single Market. We had been learning about the Single Market way before EU accession in 2004. Six years into EU membership and our businesses have learnt what it means to operate in the enlarged European marketplace of 500 million consumers. EU accession brought an obvious shift in the operating environment of Maltese business, presenting considerable opportunities but also a number of competitive challenges.

The EU’s internal market is indeed a blend of opportunities and challenges for Maltese business. This mix has nowhere been better encapsulated than in the European Commission’s plans for revamping the internal market with the publication of a new policy framework called the Single Market Act.

Maltese business welcomes the broad scope and overall objective of this Act. Nonetheless, the key stress of this new package of initiatives should be on the implementation and enforcement of existing Single Market legislation. This is absolutely evident with reference to the ongoing work towards the construction of a single market for services. While the single market for goods has been attained with relatively little difficulties, the cross-border facilitation of business services remains inadequately developed, despite the slow but steady implementation of the Services Directive across the EU. Malta is registering good progress with the setting up of the Point of Single Contact at Malta Enterprise.

At a more specific-level, the setting up of a European single market in the field of business services is an initiative that should confer considerable potential for growth for Maltese operators in this sphere.

Equally important is the Commission’s pledge to improve market surveillance within the European Single Market. EU guidelines will be developed in the area of product safety in 2011 while the proposed revision of the General Product Safety Directive should enhance the level of consumer goods safety.

Maltese business expects that the Single Market Act will help rectify the general deficiencies undermining the proper execution of market surveillance due to the relative weakness of inter-departmental coordination with regard to the enforcement of VAT, eco tax and food-safety legislation at the point of entry for goods shipped from Sicily. This causes unfair competition within the internal market to the detriment of local business operators.

On the downside, Maltese business will be keeping a watchful eye on the proposal by the Commission to take steps to improve the coordination of national tax policies, notably by recommending a directive introducing a common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB) in 2011. It is our view that tampering with taxation policy is detrimental to Malta’s attractiveness as a business destination.

The revision of the Energy Tax Directive is another matter to which the MBB will attach significant attention. The bureau plans to take a proactive approach on the revision of this directive and will be conducting an impact assessment of the Commission proposals once the text of the revised directive is published in early 2011.

Maltese business calls on the government’s commitment to pursue the same level of rigorous application of the “think small first principle” in relation to the various and disparate legislative initiatives that will ultimately constitute the Commission’s action plan for implementing the Single Market Act. The MBB is already well engaged in the discussions on the priority items that should constitute the Commission’s action plan. An exchange of views was recently held with Parliamentary Secretary Jason Azzopardi and a public discussion on the business implications of the Single Market Act is being held with MEP Louis Grech who played a key role in submitting innovative ideas that helped shape the final programme of proposals unveiled by Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier.

It is with this spirit that we are looking forward to a healthy exchange of views that will contribute towards future public policy decisions and to better informed national positions on specific issues arising from the Single Market Act at EU level.

Entrepreneurs play a vital role in a successful economy and, more importantly, in any economic recovery. They need a voice and a platform and the MBB is providing such, thus making us the voice of business in Europe.

Mr Huber is president of the Malta Business Bureau.

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