INTERVIEW | Wednesday, 28 November 2007
Daniele Fantechi’s Italianness takes as long to notice in his approach as it does in his English accent. He is casual, eloquent and relaxed. He has no trouble admitting that what attracted him first to the idea of moving his business operation to Gozo was actually the lifestyle, the hospitality, the hassle-free element and of course - the Italian dream of earning your money in a holiday environment. What lies behind first impressions however, is a track-record that distinguishes him from most of his peers in his homeland. It is no secret that Italian culture has disabled many youths of moving on early in life. Most young adults in Italy would live in with mamma for as long as they need, enjoying the benefits of typical protective family cultures whilst using Italy’s educational policies to their full advantage. It is not rare that an Italian student takes up to 8 years to complete a first degree course.
Daniele is an MBA laureate of the prestigious Bocconi University, with a specialisation in Co-operative and NGDO affairs. Referring to the EU initiative that funds European youths in order to experience part of their study programme abroad, Fantechi says “I was part of the Erasmus project generation. The EU has helped me study abroad. I made an effort to not just study in Spain and France, but also live there.”
You have been working in Malta and Gozo for the past two years now. How did the opportunity come about? What helped you decide?
I come from a small Tuscan village called Bucine, just off Firenze. Our local council, in which I have been active for some years now, is twinned with the Nadur Local Council in Gozo – by means of the European Charter for Rural Communities. I had met up with Nadur Mayor Chris Said in September 2005, when a delegation from Nadur had visited Bucine. The following November, I was invited to Nadur – with the prospect of helping them understand different opportunities with regards to EU projects. One thing led to the other and the following Spring, the first approvals started coming in. That is where I decided to move permanently. This was partly motivated by the fact that airline tickets were too expensive back then. The transport cost would have been simply prohibitive had I decided to keep coming and going. Of course, the idea of establishing myself in this type of atmosphere made it much easier for me to decide. I would say I integrated very well with the community of Nadur. Had I not liked the Maltese and Gozitan lifestyles I would have certainly moved back to Italy, irrespective of prospective business opportunities. Quite recently, my work in Malta itself has increased so I decided to live in both Malta and Gozo, according to work exigencies. I don’t think I’ll find this difficult to handle since, having lived in much larger countries, the distance between Malta and Gozo does not bother me.
What kind of grants are approved by the EU, how important is it for a project to be well financed?
One of the projects I carried out with the Nadur Local Council had received a Eur65,000 grant. We used that budget to organise festivities celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the foundation of the European Parliament. Besides the cultural and entertainment side to this event – which included concerts by Matia Bazar and Riccardo Fogli as well as a series of local folk performances and an art exhibition; we also associated a variety of informative activities. We organised, for example, a debate between MEPs Simon Busuttil and John Attard Montalto, moderated by MaltaToday Midweek editor Matthew Vella. The project attracted thousands of people to Nadur, linked this small village to major cities around Europe in which celebrations were being held, and most importantly created a festive atmosphere through which attendees were informed about Nadur. We worked within our budget and created a project that reached our initial objectives.
I have also worked on an interesting project with Gozitano, a co-operative that represents all farmers in Gozo. We introduced the first process ever for denomination of origin certification (P.D.O.) in Malta, and this was for Gozo’s lumilarin_. This project is still going on, with the fruit being examined in this present phase. This project led to bigger one. Together with Marsovin Winery, Camilleri Wines and Ta’ Rikardu, we have managed to certify Gozo as a D.O.K. (Denominazzjoni tal-Ori_ini Kontrollata) area for its wines. These processes, although in an initial phase will better define Gozitan farming produce. We can now be proud of being able to answer when are asked to define what makes Gozitan produce truly Gozitan. What this really means is that if branding agencies decide to market non-Gozitan food as Gozitan, consumers will have the opportunity to verify whether this is true, by examining its certification. The EU’s investment is minimal when compared to the long term effect such projects are likely to bring about. Recently, we also worked on a project that received a grant of €50,000. This amount funded a conference addressing the common agricultural policy for Europe. With more than 70 participants from 9 different countries, this project was a breakthrough in the agricultural sector. You may find it hard to believe, but in the past years, Maltese and Gozitan farmers never had the opportunity to meet up to discuss issues that would affect them so directly. The event did not only solidify the network between Gozitan farmers but also built new relationships with foreign peers. Obviously, the participation of the Prime Minister as well as that of other ministers and members of parliament helped participants discuss the issue in finer detail. I am currently waiting for the approval of two projects submitted for a specific client that if approved, the EU would grant the funding of an amount to the tune of Eur5m. Of course, I am not in a position to give more details about this at this stage.
What are your views on the business scene in Malta? Do you find it easy working here? How are EU projects perceived by business entities in general here? Are companies in Malta prepared and informed enough?
From someone who comes from Italy, yes, I find it easy working here. People are bright, creative, dynamic and hard working in spite of the heat, the size and Malta’s intrinsic Mediterranean culture. From a personal point of view, Malta offers better conditions than Italy, especially when it comes to taxation. Dealing with some government departments is not easy and we all know that. However, I come from a more tragic country in this regard. Back home, if I call any ministry and they actually bother to pick up the phone I would consider it as an achievement. Perhaps, businesses in Malta need more information on the potential that can be offered. Government entities are already doing a lot, but it’s never enough really. Besides, applying is difficult and it requires technical skill. Consultants or specialised human resources are not only required for successful applications to go through successfully but also for their proper implementation once they are approved.
Do you find it easy working with EU organisations?
One may either apply for structural funds or for direct funds. The former are managed by the Maltese government under strict guidelines and supervision from Brussels, whereas for the latter one would have to apply directly from Brussels. Is it easy? No, but if you are patient enough to learn how to go through the right channels you will find that it’s not impossible. Applicants must put themselves in the shoes of bureaucrats in Brussels. They have a completely different frame of mind. You can only fit in once you understand their complex logic and learn how to anticipate certain issues with application procedures.
What are your projects for the future?
My aim is to carry on supporting Maltese and Gozitan operators in the development of EU policy. The EU is a political machine. It guarantees prosperity, peace and freedom to all its members. The EU is a union built on diversity, working within a very complex set up. I, and here I speak on behalf of everyone in this profession, am the bridge between the applicant and the EU’s complexities. I could only aspire to become a stronger bridge.
28 November 2007
ISSUE NO. 513