Brussels, 19 February 2014
Industrial cooperation: Euro-Mediterranean meeting
Over the past five years, throughout the southern Mediterranean there has been some progress in policy creation and implementation to support businesses, as well as business success stories - in spite of the considerable political and economic turmoil experienced by the region. This afternoon in Brussels the Union for the Mediterranean will hold its ninth ministerial meeting on Euro-Mediterranean industrial cooperation, with the aim of enhancing support for SMEs and well as further developing its ultimate ambition to create a Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area. European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani will represent the EU and co-chair the meeting with Jordan's Minister for Industry & Trade, Hatem Hafez Al-Halawani Al-Tamimi.
More than 30 Euro-Med countries and partners will be represented, most of them at ministerial level. In addition, international and national business associations as well as international organizations will contribute to the debate. The findings of an assessment of the business climate in the Mediterranean neighbour countries will be presented, a work programme for 2014-2015 will be discussed and a declaration to continue to develop EU-Med business will be endorsed by the ministers.
Assessment of the Mediterranean business climate
A country's business climate is key to its success. More productive and efficient enterprises fuel economic growth. They also create demand for skilled labour and generate better paid jobs, with salaries linked to productivity increases. These enterprises are also a source of value-added, contributing through taxation to provide the resources needed for developing an efficient public administration and sustain public investment in areas such as infrastructure, health and education.
The 2013 assessment of the Mediterranean business climate found that while there has been progress in SME policy elaboration and implementation it has been modest, incremental and uneven across economies and dimensions.
On the bright side, and as a result of the transition processes in some countries, private sector organisations have become more active. New associations have been established, some of them representing the voices of new entrepreneurs, and old and well established relations between the political and the business elites have been carefully scrutinized. Across the region, public-private dialogue is more open and constructive and has generally contributed to improving the quality of the public policy towards small business.
The challenge for the Mediterranean economies, particularly those going through political transition, is to develop and implement structural policies in challenging times where short term solutions are needed. The assessment's findings will be endorsed at the Ministerial meeting and will guide future reforms.
The 2013 assessment looked at developments over the past five years. Several hundred business development stakeholders in the public and private sectors contributed to the assessment in the following Mediterranean neighbour countries: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia. The evaluation was coordinated by the European Commission in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the European Training Foundation and the European Investment Bank.
Despite uneven progress in business policy development, EU companies have already benefitted from Euro-Mediterranean industrial cooperation. As part of research into the results of the cooperation, a leading Italian manufacture specialised in high-end home textiles asserted that the meetings of the Euro-Mediterranean Industrial Dialogue have helped the EU Textile and Clothing industry intensify relationships with the main sectoral stakeholders across neighbouring countries. He also found that the numerous business to business contacts and fruitful exchanges of ideas and of information at these events over the years greatly helped to build mutual knowledge, trust and confidence. This led to the development of common projects in areas such as education, skills, clustering, R&D and innovation.
As for non-EU partners, a vehicle manufacturer in the Lebanon whose markets had previously been limited to traditional sales territories for Lebanese companies - namely Near and Middle East - began to see Europe as a possible destination after becoming familiar more with EU requirements, as highlighted by the Euro-Med meetings. Encouraged by the initial success of a project with a French truck manufacturer his company then entered into collaborations with industrial bodywork plants in France, Austria and Italy and heavy plants vehicles in France and Germany; projects which proved beneficial to both sides.
Elements of future work programme
During today's meeting views will be exchanged on strategic directions for future Euro-Mediterranean industrial cooperation, after having consulted governments and business associations on the southern rim of the Mediterranean.
Ministers will also discuss the work programme to be implemented in 2014-2015. It is likely that they will discuss methods to continue improving the business climate, promote entrepreneurship, innovation and SMEs based on the "Small Business Act" for Europe. Other aims include encouraging SMEs to innovate, export, network and internationalise, building a large pan-Euro-Mediterranean market for industrial products, conducting dialogues and exchanging good practice in sectors of common interest such as textiles and clothing and creative industries.
At the end of today's meeting, the Ministers of Industry of the Union for the Mediterranean will adopt a declaration to:
The declaration can be seen as an important milestone in the move towards a Euro-Mediterranean area in which SMEs can start, expand, create jobs, export, import, invest and build business partnerships.
Background information on Euro Mediterranean industrial cooperation
Euro-Mediterranean industrial cooperation is a regional process coordinated by the European Commission. Its purpose is to share information on SME and industrial policies and programmes and facilitate the transfer of know-how and good practice at the Euro-Mediterranean level. The underlying vision is one of heading towards a Euro-Mediterranean area where European and Mediterranean SMEs can start, expand, create jobs, export, import, invest, build business partnerships across the Euro-Mediterranean area. Euro-Mediterranean Industry Ministers meet, in principle, every two years to take stock of progress and define priorities for the years ahead. These priorities are translated in multi-annual work programmes.