The Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (COBCOE) surveyed the opinions of its member companies all over the continent what topics they would recommend for the Hungarian EU Presidency. For Diplomacy & Trade, Gergely Mikola, the chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hungary and Executive member at COBCOE summarized the findings.
Both the British Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (BCCH) and the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (COBCOE) consider that it is a vital role for business to work constructively with governments, both at EU and at country levels to help drive forward the agenda of competitiveness and a market economy. We decided to involve all our member chambers in Europe and their member companies to collect their views, expectations and preferred focus areas for the Hungarian Presidency to address. We have then shaped their answers into a position paper. Having it prepared by early 2010, we shared it with the then government and later with the current government. We grouped feedbacks into 13 areas, out of which the most significant were:
SME’s – membership companies called for more focus on this area in economic, tax and employment policies, ease on funding opportunities and tightening of late payment sanctions.
Transparency and corruption – as one of the key elements of the competitiveness agenda, companies outlined the importance of effective anti corruption legislation and enforcement, transparent public procurement procedures and appropriate party financing legislation.
Predictable legislation – another key area, as businesses need clarity on their environment to be able to plan their future investments. Therefore, consideration of business planning periods in taxation and company- / industry-related legislation, transparent involvement of all relevant stakeholders to minimize change risks and transparent decision making in Brussels (e.g. publish minutes of Council / Permanent Representation meetings) were outlined as key focus areas.
Education and labor - Due to the relatively low labor mobility and flexibility, the lack of alignment between labor supply and demand the companies perceived, they called for active and facilitated dialogue between education and business (on regional and national level), reduction of labor costs and improvement of electronic learning and distance education.
Administrative burdens and red tape – in an area being actively addressed by the Hungarian government domestically, companies put a long series of proposals forward, including sunset clauses on EU legislation, engage with business organizations on red tape reduction programs, balance security and compliance requirements with enforceability and practicality, red tape hotline funded by EU but operated by an independent business organization, or regular independent red tape audits for EU departments.
R&D and innovation – because member companies see strong competition of BRIC countries to Europe and IP protection being very cumbersome and costly, they call for raising research and development efforts/budgets, the design of appropriate incentive system to R&D and innovation in Europe and also for the finalization of the European patent legislation.
Energy and environment – Companies have found respective EU legislation being too prescriptive, perceived climate change actions often used as a revenue raising opportunity and cap and trade / carbon permits system increasing costs for business, they propose to focus on areas, such as better use of natural energy resources (geothermic, solar, wind, etc.), encouraging sustainable environmental approach in the building sector throughout full life-cycle of buildings and infrastructures and create sustainable economic model for business – eg. no incremental tax costs for low carbon enterprises.
Data protection - With feedbacks from several countries, member organizations would go for a complete review of EU 1995 Data Protection Directive, the replacement of “ineffective” enforcement agencies and prescriptive regulations with directly enforceable (by individuals) charter of legal rights and more flexibility in relation to storage and handling of data.
I am happy to see some of the areas outlined already being addressed in the Presidency strategy and appreciating the fact that there is a pre-set agenda already existing. Also, there are unexpected international affairs to be managed from Libya to the tragic events in Japan. We all hope for more of our focus areas to start developing.