“When we talk about the effects of the pandemic on SMEs and small businesses, especially those in the maritime sectors, we aren’t simply speaking about the economy. We are speaking about the livelihoods of hundreds of family owned businesses, and in turn, the livelihoods of families.” – Cyrus Engerer
This was said by Member of the European Parliament Cyrus Engerer during a pan-European conference organised to discuss what State Aid rules can apply to support the recovery in maritime and insular regions.
In his intervention, Engerer stated that as a Maltese MEP he believes that SMEs don’t only mean small businesses, but they often mean small run family businesses and traditions and pride that runs from one generation to the next. Thus, he stated, not only are businesses at stake here, but also the lives of the families who run these businesses and the futures of the generations to come.
“This is why we must act, and we must act fast in order to ensure we do not put entire family’s lives in jeopardy.”
In his speech, MEP Engerer pointed out that the Corona Virus Pandemic has exposed weaknesses in our societies, and in our economies which are particularly relevant for the maritime sector and the blue economy, which have been devastatingly impacted by the outbreak and by the rigid restrictions that were put in place all over Europe in an attempt to keep the virus at bay. “From the fishing and acquaculture sectors which have experienced a sudden decline in demand to the heavy reliance of coastal regions and insular territories on the tourism and the transport sector.”
Thus, argued Engerer, it is imperative to ensure that funding arrives not only within these regions, but also within these industries to ensure a holistic recovery for our societies. It is therefore crucial that we provide support to the tourism sector in heavily impacted regions, particularly to SMEs, in order to safeguard millions of jobs around Europe, he said. In this regard, Engerer welcomed the European Commission’s decision to prolong until 31 December 2021 the State Aid Temporary Framework which was adopted earlier last year as an urgent response to the Pandemic. However, in his comments to the European Commission during the conference Engerer stated that he would have liked to see a singling out of islands in the latest revisions to the current state aid framework in order to ensure that the specificities for islands are truly addressed. “I very much welcome the proposal to have a joint study/evaluation on islands in order to assess in more detail the extra burdens and costs that companies based on islands are faced with with a view to reflect this into adapted ceilings for islands.”
Engerer also welcomed the decision to expand the scope of the current temporary framework by increasing the aid ceilings and allowing the conversion of certain repayable instruments into direct grants until the end of 31 December 2022. However, Engerer warned, while this is a step in the right direction, it should not be the last or only step moving forward.
The constant unforeseen developments which we have seen during this pandemic, require us to be flexible and to continuously adapt existing rules and measures according to the current need, stated Engerer. Moreover, the impact of the pandemic will be felt in the long run and measures which are being treated as ‘exceptional’ and ‘urgent’ might end up shaping our long-term strategies for specific sectors.
“We therefore have an opportunity and an obligation to use this experience to address, in a sustainable manner and in the long-run, the economic and social vulnerabilities, particularly in disadvantaged regions, which were exposed through this pandemic.”
Concluding the conference, Engerer stated that the achievement of the policy priorities in the European Green Deal should be part of these long-term strategies and state aid can be one of the tools to achieve these objectives. In this regard we need to work on a detailed assessment on how competition rules and sustainability policies can work together without leaving behind small and medium sized businesses which are an integral part of the economies of maritime and insular regions.