The single market, trade, digitalisation and the circular economy are among European employers' organisations' key political priorities for 2018. The secretaries-general of Eurocommerce, UEAPME and CopaCogeca discussed the political priorities of their organisations for 2018 with the Members of the Employers' Group.
SMEs going digital
Digitalisation will be one of the key priorities for UEAPME in 2018. This involves e-commerce, improving skills adaptation and establishing a proper legal framework. The organisation is collecting best practices from among its members in order to help other entrepreneurs make the transition.
With regard to the circular economy, it is important for us to make sure that SMEs can make a smooth green transition in a way that does not hamper their activities – said Veronique Willems, secretary-general of UEAPME. This also includes the EU Plastic Strategy recently announced by the European Commission.
Value added tax and issues related to VAT regimes, the review of the SME VAT scheme and the flexibility of VAT schemes in general are other areas of focus for UEAPME in 2018.
Agricultural sector focuses on FTAs and CAP
The future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the impact of trade deals on agriculture will be a key area of interest for Copa-Cogeca. A number of detailed aspects of changes to the CAP are of crucial important to the whole sector. An example of this is the concept of greening – how to continue introducing greening in a sustainable manner, how to ensure sufficient return and how to avoid additional red tape. Mr Pesonen also pointed out challenges that the farming sector faces in terms of employment: providing a sufficient number of qualified seasonal workers remains a challenge.
Copa-Cogeca is also concerned about the progress on trade negotiations with Mercosur. According to Mr Pesonen, the current state of play does not provide sufficient benefits for European agriculture and for smaller enterprises in particular.
Tough times for businesses still to come?
The current political climate is challenging for businesses, with growing North-South and East-West divisions in the EU – noted Christian Verschueren, secretary-general of EuroCommerce. In his view, some governments in Europe are currently challenging the foundations of the EU by undermining the rule of law or adopting protectionist practices. He stressed the importance of a properly functioning single market and open trade. Ongoing social reforms – which have not been undertaken in numerous countries – are important in order to sustain the economic recovery in the EU.
Digital transformation of the economy also remains a key interest for EuroCommerce. In 2018, the organisation is keen to focus, among other things, on tax aspects of the digital economy and on the impact on the labour market.
Brexit – growing concerns among employers
With regard to Brexit, all three organisations expressed their concerns about a negative impact on European businesses.
No matter what the result of the negotiations is, we must make sure that SMEs can continue trading with as little administrative burden as possible, said Veronique Willems.
The growing risk of no agreement by March 2019 is also a concern for European agriculture. First of all, it will certainly have an impact on the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy. Secondly, the United Kingdom remains an important market for EU farmers.
We are terribly concerned by the possible impact of a so-called hard Brexit. Any customs or additional administrative burden imposed on trade exchange with the UK will have an impact on prices, said Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of Copa-Cogeca.
The discussion was the first of two organised by the Employers' Group. The second debate with BusinessEurope, EuroChambres and CEEP is planned for March.