By Ben Butters
Thursday, 13 October, was not a typical day in the European Parliament.
Instead of politicians, over 700 entrepreneurs filled the Brussels hemicycle for the 4th European Parliament of Enterprises.
They discussed and voted on several key issues for the business community in 2016: trade, the single market, sustainability and skills.
The fallout from the UK referendum on EU membership predictably didn’t take long to come up, either. The first speaker from the UK delegation (which included Sally Low, LOW Managing Director), was applauded by the entire hemicycle when he called on policy-makers to put an end to their harmful Brexit rhetoric. Reflecting this, the opening vote revealed that 2 out of 3 entrepreneurs from across Europe believe that Brexit will harm their business.
Days before crucial decisions on the EU-Canada trade agreement, the vast majority of Members of the European Parliament of Enterprises acknowledged the need for effective EU involvement in trade policy. At the same time, small businesses demanded a stronger say in trade discussions. 80% also considered that granting China Market Economy Status at this time would have a negative impact on their business.
Stuttering Single Market
Policy makers were given a wakeup call when 3% more entrepreneurs than in the previous edition of the European Parliament of Enterprises indicated that the single market is insufficiently integrated (87% in 2016 compared to 84% in 2014). Nearly 6 out of 10 then voted that online traders should be legally obliged to sell to consumers across borders. However, a separate result underlined that it would be rash to impose such an obligation while so many intra-EU non-tariff barriers remain; 88% agreed that a lack of information on different countries’ rules and requirements is a significant obstacle to cross-border operations.
Closing the Loop
A large majority expressed a belief that the EU economy will benefit from the recent ‘Circular Economy’ proposals to improve resource efficiency and reduce waste, putting the ball firmly in the EU legislators’ court to ensure a business friendly agreement. The sustainability session also revealed an aversion to mandatory energy audits for smaller businesses, as entrepreneurs should remain free to choose how they improve their energy efficiency.
Enhancing Financial Liquidity
More than 8 out of 10 of the entrepreneurs called for governments to do more to tackle late payments, indicating that tougher EU laws introduced 2 years ago are not having the intended impact. Half of the entrepreneurs revealed that they search for financing outside their own country. Whether this is through choice or necessity, it suggests that effective EU measures to improve cross-border capital flows would gain considerable traction among the business community.
There was almost unanimous support for the integration of work-based learning in vocational training, as well as for upgrades in the provision of entrepreneurship education. 90% of voters expressed their willingness to host a refugee as a trainee or apprentice, underlining the contribution that the business community can and would make to this humanitarian challenge should processes be put in place to allow them to do so.
Normal business will resume at the European Parliament after this powerful shot of entrepreneurial adrenaline. But EUROCHAMBRES and the Chamber network will be doing their best to ensure that the results and messages from the European Parliament of Enterprises circulate freely among EU policy-makers in the weeks and months to come. After all, Business needs Europe and Europe needs business.
Ben Butters is Policy Director at EUROCHAMBRES, the European association of Chambers of Commerce & Industry.
The European Parliament of Enterprises was co-organised by EUROCHAMBRES and the European Parliament under the auspices of the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union.