By Ben Butters
Over 750 entrepreneurs took part in the 5th edition of the European Parliament of Enterprises (EPE) in the Brussels hemicycle on 10 October. As the final EPE of the current 5-year European Union (EU) legislative cycle, the event had a forward looking perspective towards next May’s European Parliament elections and the culmination of the ongoing discussions on the future of Europe in Sibiu.
Entrepreneurs from across Europe debated and voted in sessions on skills, trade and the future of Europe. The participation of the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, dominated the media coverage of the EPE, as every word of his speech (and its translation) was scrutinized for signals on the state of play – understandably, given the critical phase of the process. EUROCHAMBRES President, Christoph Leitl, expressed the Chamber network’s regret that the UK will leave the EU in a few months. Later on, entrepreneurs demonstrated the same level of unity as EU27 governments in voting almost unanimously that the integrity of the Single Market and the EU must not be compromised for a favourable Brexit deal.
During the opening session, 84% of the entrepreneurs from all over Europe replied ‘yes’ when asked whether it is harder today to find staff with the right skills than 5 years ago. The same question was asked at two previous editions of the EPE and the percentage of ‘yes’ votes has increased each time. This highlights an extremely worrying trend, and prompted President Leitl to warn EU leaders at the Tripartite Social Summit on 16 October that the EU is sleepwalking into a skills crisis.
The Trade session confirmed overwhelming support among entrepreneurs for the EU to play a leading role in defending a fair, open, rules-based global trade agenda. It also underlined the need for further measures to ensure that the EU’s SMEs are able to capitalise on the opportunities presented by free trade agreements.
Several speakers cautioned against the tendency in some quarters to think of the EU purely in terms of the politicians and officials in and around the institutions’ headquarters in Brussels. Entrepreneurs and, indeed, all citizens, should recognise that the EU is a joint undertaking that we are all part of.
The Chamber network fully concurs with this point of view, which is one of the main reasons behind the biennial European Parliament of Enterprises: we want an EU that is open for business, so businesses must be open to the EU.
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