On the 26th of April SME Europe, European SME Business Club (Member of SME Connect) together with the International Democratic Union (IDU), hosted a conference at the Portcullis House in London. This conference was made possible by the initiative of Dr. Horst Heitz (Executive Director of SME Europe) and Christian Kattner (Secretary General IDU). The title of the conference was: “#BREXIT: How to foster success and growth for Enterprises in Great Britain and the European Union”. The event was attended by a group of more than 50 people. The group consisted of MEPs, Members of the British Parliament, representatives of trade organizations, as well as business owners and high-ranked business operators. The conference was separated into three parts:
- A welcoming at Downing Street No 10, hosted by the British Prime Minister Theresa MAY, Greg HANDS (Minister of State for Trade Policy) and Andrew GRIFFITHS (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Cooperate Responsibility).
- Two panel discussions about how politics wants Brexit to be processed and what Businesses are expecting. The discussions were hold by MEPs, Member of the British Parliament, Association representatives and business professionals.
- A Dinner with all participants in the Portcullis House and a following tour through the historic Lower House.
The event began at the honorable and famous Downing Street No 10. At the headquarter of Government of the United Kingdom and the official residence of the Prime Minister, SME Europe and all colleagues were welcomed by the highest level of the British government. During the get-to-together, participants and British policy makers used the opportunity to exchange their aspirations and matters. All parties left the one-hour long consultation delightful and with new insides.
After a short walk from Downing Street Number 10 to the Portcullis House, the introduction for the subject started. This was done by Alec SHELBROOKE MP (Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party) and Dr. Paul RÜBIG MEP (President of SME Global, Honorary President of SME Europe, Honorary Member of SME Connect and Member of the European Business Club). Both pointed out the importance of SMEs to the European Economy. Europe’s success is unmissable connected to the success of SMEs. To foster future success, a clear path is needed. This path needs to be implemented as soon as possible. To recreate predictability, a change in tax policy for SMEs, from law makers of both sides, is furthermore needed.
The honorary speech was delivered by Steve BAKER MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Exiting the EU). After presenting his view on reasons for the happening of Brexit, Mr. Baker carried on talking about the necessity, of creating a treaty that will not disrupt the UK-EU relation a second time. Future trade needs to be as frictionless as possible, so a win-win situation can occur. SMEs on both sides, and therefore both societies, will profit from a fair and good separation agreement. To secure that, this conversation between SMEs and policy makers is a perfect bridge builder.
The first panel discussion was moderated by Michael JAEGER (Secretary General of the Taxpayers Association of Europe (TAE) and CEO of the European Economic Senate (EES)). The focus of this panel was on competition, investments and finance services. Sir Geoffrey CLIFTON-BROWN MP (IDU Vice Chairman, Deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee) talked about the intercedence of UK and EU. Having an agreement, that gives both parties access to the other market will benefit both. SMEs from the UK and from the EU have a significant amount of trade with each other, securing and expanding it is crucial for a prosperous economy. An agreement that aims to hurt the UK, will end up hurting the EU, he argued.
Maria RITCH (Vice-President of the Bavarian Taxpayers Association) compared the Brexit Treaty with a divorce, that can hurt the children, if done wrong. The children, in this analogy the citizens, expect a good deal that will make the continent a more prosperous place. However, she also pointed out, that if UK wants a Free Trade Agreement +, they will also need to contribute to the EU budget. Ivan STEFANEC MEP (Member of the IMCO and DSAS committee, Vice-President of SME Europe) focused on the importance of inner European trade and export. SMEs will suffer from a bad trade deal, therefore low/no tariffs are important. Besides a good agreement, the UK and EU should increase their cooperation in all fields after the Brexit. Even though the public discussion is often negative, he sees a positive development and good will on both sides. Ronald KENT (Managing Director of Capital Markets and Wholesale at UK Finance) specified the importance of the financial sectors in the supply chain of SMEs. London as the mayor financial center of the world, is crucial for the development of European SMEs. Therefore, access for both sides to the other sides market is needed for a win-win situation. Furthermore, SMEs focus on daily business and don’t have the capacity for consultancies and lawyers, therefore they rely on good policy making. The following Q&A discussed the current uncertainty SMEs have and the necessity for a soft Brexit.
After a short break the second panel discussion started, which was moderated by Dr. Ralf SCHEINEIDER (Vice-President of the European Journalist Association). The participants discussed the topics research, innovation and trade. Iuliu WINKLER MEP (Member of the INTA and D-IN committee, First Vice-President of SME Europe) began the panel by talking about the need of overcoming geopolitics and moving to an era of connectivity of all sectors. Digitalization gives us the right tools to achieve this goal. In his view, Brexit disrupted many parts of Europe, economic and social. Rebuilding and advancing those parts is the job of politicians. Dr. Erik Sidney von KROIHER (Executive Councilor, Director International Relations & Government Liaison of Kapsch AG) sees the biggest problematic of Brexit in the uncertainty it created for the near future. Politics job is to create an environment for businesses and industries to flourish. Therefore, a customs union is needed. A CETA type of treaty is not enough for UK, it needs a further reaching agreement.
Syed KAMALL MEP (Member of the BCPR and DCAR committee, ECR Group Leader) talked about a mindset of “European Innovation” that needs to be overcome. Meaning, that its indifferent where innovation is coming from. Innovation moves societies ahead. Creating an environment for innovation to increase, should be the priority in the Brexit negotiations. Both parties want to trade as much as possible with each other. He also added, that a big number of SME owner voted to leave the EU. In his opinion this was due to extra regulation caused by Brussels. To keep this in mind is crucial for the future success of Europe. The discussion moved on by points made by Srita HEIDE (CEO of Srita Heide International and Member of the European SME Business Club). As the CEO of an international operating SME she knows what kind of uncertainty the Brexit has caused. She is also aware of the position of the UK as a gateway to Europe for many non-European international operating SMEs. Consequently, only a good Brexit agreement can foster future prosperity.
The formal part of the conference was closed by final remarks made by Prof. Dr. Inese VAIDERE MEP (Member of the BUDG committee, Board Member of SME Europe, Professor of Economics at the University of Latvia and President of the Latvian Economic Development Forum). In her political conclusion she underlined the importance of needed clarity and mutual benefit. Furthermore, she talked about the importance of common European security and defense. Brexit should not affect this. Dr. Ingo FRIEDRICH (Honorary Member of the European Parliament, President of the European Economic Senate and Honorary President of SME Europe) asked for less emotions and more rationality in the public debate about the Brexit. He sees a custom union as the best solution to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy for SMEs. He ended the conference by stating, that EU and UK need each other to keep up with the rising global competition.
The conference ended with a three-course dinner in the Portcullis House and a following tour through the building. SME Europe wants to thank all participants and partners that made this event a joyful and productive meeting. We are looking forward seeing you again!
For more pictures please click here.