29 Nov. - 5 Dec. 2000

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Understanding the four freedoms

John E. Sullivan Following are extracts from the opening speech delivered by Malta Chamber of Commerce President John E. Sullivan, at the "Understanding the Four Freedoms" conference held recently

John E. Sullivan

The Chamber has always been at the forefront of developments in Malta’s relations with the European Union. Our Council minutes show that in 1970, council members of the time considered a summary of a White Paper entitled "White Paper on Proposed Agreement for Malta’s Association (20/10/70)".

Since then, three whole decades have passed and we have come a long way. I would like to underline, however, that the Chamber’s stand on Malta-EU relations remains unaltered. We believe that Malta should join the European Union under the right conditions. This belief was further confirmed when a study performed by the Malta Business Bureau in 1998 entitled "Future Malta-EU Relations: A Business Perspective" concluded that EU membership was in the best interest of Maltese business in the medium-long term".

Even more recently, one of our latest initiatives on the EU front hasbeen to survey our members’ views on EU related matters. This we did only last May. After carefully analysing the survey results it emerged that a section of Chamber members need to be made fully aware of what specific benefits and disadvantages may ensue from EU membership. Moreover, respondents showed that they require more direction as to how they can fully exploit the opportunities associated with operating inside the EU’s internal market. Hence, it was obvious for us to decide to hold such a conference.

The four freedoms, that is the free movement of people, goods, services and capital, form the basis of the European Union’s legislative structure. They are bound to have an influence on the way we go about our business in Malta – both between local companies as well as with our foreign counterparts. Malta’s accession negotiations are well underway, meaning that the four freedoms are already under discussion. These freedoms are fundamental for the future growth of businesses in Malta. The Chamber believes that it is important not only to understand the rules of the game within the EU, but also how these rules will be applied in Malta.

Our intention today is, therefore, to provide participants with an overview of each of the four freedoms, as well as an overall perspective as to how these would relate to the Maltese scenario. The Chamber of Commerce feels that the time is ripe to analyse these four freedoms in detail and to consider their practical implications. This conference will provide an opportunity to clarify any misconceptions about the real effects of Malta’s EU membership. I expect that it will also indicate how these rules will be applied in Malta thereby highlighting the potential problems as well as the emerging opportunities which can be exploited by Maltese business.

To achieve this, the Chamber has sought to invite three speakers for each of the four freedoms – one from a Directorate General in the European Commission, a local specialist and a representative of the business community. Our four speakers from the Commission are expected to provide us with a general overview of the relevant EU legislation and possibly they will share with us the recent experiences from EU Member States and applicant countries. The local experts are expected to show us where and how the relevant EU legislation will affect our systems and procedures while the business representatives will concentrate on how commerce and industry is perceiving the changes at hand.

I expect that our speakers will today tackle subjects of common interest and others of a more specific nature including the impact of the free movement of people on the Maltese labour market, unemployment levels and skills. The effect of the free movement of goods will also be addressed where we shall discuss the removal of levies particularly in vulnerable sectors like furniture and agriculture. The free movement of services and capital are also set to have an impact on the Maltese economy.

We are all aware of the daunting task which our Government is currently undertaking in making sure that our legislation is fully compatible with the Acquis Communautaire. The second in a series of documents entitled National Programme for the Adoption of the Aquis (NPAA) was recently published, explaining further Government’s intentions with respect to this legal harmonisation. Through our local speakers, today’s conference will examine whether the necessary administrative structures are also being put in place to effectively implement and enforce this legislation. Our Chamber is contributing actively to this cause. Not only have we submitted feedback on both versions of the NPAA and other Government documents but we are also represented in MEUSAC discussions through various representatives who selflessly give their time and expertise for the benefit of the business community.

The Chamber administration has also stepped up its efforts in this regard with stronger participation in initiatives organised by EUROCHAMBRES – the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry. In particular, it is worth mentioning that last month I headed a four-man delegation to Berlin for Eurochambers’ Eighth Annual Congress which dealt mainly with enlargement. Here we made it a point to lobby with our European counterparts for the EU to fix an early date for enlargement. In fact, the final resolution of the Congress stated that enlargement should happen as soon as the candidate countries are ready. A timetable should be fixed as soon as the first applicant countries are around two or three years away from membership. This will provide both governments and societies in candidate countries with the motivation and political support.

Prior to our visit to Berlin, I also travelled to Brussels with other senior officials of our Chamber and our partners, the Malta Federation of Industry. Here we visited our joint office in Brussels – the Malta Business Bureau where through our able Director, Dr Leonard Mizzi, we held similar productive discussions with several Commission Authorities responsible for Malta's application bid.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt