Offering a helping hand this season | Josianne Cutajar

It is our duty to defend SMEs and be their voice

Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar (right)
Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar (right)

The on-going pandemic has affected each and every one of us, not only locally, but on a European, and global level too. The ways in which we have been affected, however, vary a great deal.

Once COVID-19 reached our shores back in March of this year, small and medium-sized enterprises took a huge financial hit, one, which unfortunately, they have yet to recover from.

Less than a year ago, our picturesque streets and villages were crowded with tourists, our shops and businesses were flourishing, and their main concern was keeping up with the unrelenting demand for their products and services. This favourable situation has been turned on its head entirely. SMEs, their owners, employees and their families are now struggling to make ends meet, despite local and EU incentives to assist them. Therefore, they need all the help they can get.

With the festive season just around the corner, my message to you is simple: do your utmost this year to support our local businesses. We launched #go4local, with that exact message in mind. The idea behind #go4local is to encourage people like you and me to surprise our parents friends and loved ones special, unique, local gifts.

Being Maltese, just like many of these business owners and workers, as well as their families, I feel it is my duty to defend these SMEs and be their voice. Hence why earlier this year, as shadow rapporteur, I worked on and put forth a report on the European Strategy for Small and Medium Enterprises, on behalf of socialists and democrats. Yesterday, there was a majority vote in plenary and with the European Committee for Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) also having voted in favour, I feel that this crucial step is one of many required to introduce vital amendments and changes.

Our working, as well as living environments and habits have changed over the last few months and will, most likely, continue to do so. In the same way that many of us have had no choice but to adapt to working remotely, SMEs must too, adapt to new realities. It is essential that we offer a helping hand to all kinds of businesses, ranging from the self-sufficient, modern and tech-savvy, to those who have never prioritised technology in their operations before. Therefore, we must work to strengthen the skills of our traditional SME leaders and workers, within the digital realm, in order to provide them with the necessary tools needed to operate their businesses in an ever-changing technological world.

We are living in an age where it would be irresponsible not to consider one’s environmental impact. This is why the SMEs strategy, for a sustainable and digital Europe, supports European SMEs by strengthening their capacities to adapt to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. This refers to a state of being where one does not put a strain on the climate and does its utmost to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Helping SMEs make the ‘green transition’ goes hand in hand with the refinement of workers’ skills and providing SMEs with a secure place in the near future.

In truth, it’s all about education. We must strive to educate and inform enterprises about the myriad of opportunities and benefits that they are likely to see fall in their laps, if they adopt more technologically advanced, green methods. In the same realm, we should also dedicate our efforts to increasing the number of STEM subject graduates, to further strengthen and refine our overall digital skills. Where there is a lack of skills or resources, we should promote partnerships and collaborations. It’s been proven before: there is strength in numbers.

Change is inevitable and with most sectors showing an unmistakable pattern of increased dependence on modern technology, we must too, change for the better.

Once change is achieved, we must ensure that the European, as well as the local market, is open to all businesses. Prior, during and post-COVID-19, many have and unfortunately, will continue to encounter issues such as access to finance and unnecessary bureaucracy. It is our job to ensure that any and all forms of barriers, which hinder SMEs from competing, are eliminated completely. The report, for instance, calls for a study of the barriers that hold women back from starting their own businesses or holding senior positions, merely due to their gender. There is a strong emphasis on training, to better address this hapless reality.

It is in our best interest, as well as that of our parents and children, that Maltese and Gozitan businesses are able to contribute to the economy of the future, available and accessible for all, able to adapt, change and develop into better and stronger entities.

95% of all businesses in the European Union are considered to be SMEs. We must continue to work hard to restore confidence in these enterprises, as well as the workers, on whom thousands of families depend.

This brings us full circle. As we offer a helping hand to SMEs on a European level, it is up to you, the local consumer, to do your part, too. Together, we must be an effective shoulder for our SMEs to not only recover from the pandemic, but be able to benefit from the great economical leaps we need to make, in order to thrive.

Local businesses need your help this year, #go4local.

Josianne Cutajar is a Labour MEP • This is a paid post