Interview21 June 2013 by Maria Koleva
Pho­to: EESC

Pho­to: EESC

Close-up: Hen­ri Malos­se is Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pe­an Eco­nom­ic and Social Com­mit­tee since 18 April 2013. He became a French mem­ber of the EESC in 1995 and in 2006 was elect­ed as Pres­i­dent of the Employ­ers’ Group, also hav­ing been Co-pres­i­dent of the EU-Bul­gar­ia Joint Con­sult­a­tive Com­mit­tee. He is the author of over fif­ty reports, includ­ing a high­ly crit­i­cal anal­y­sis of the Bolk­estein Direct­ive. Mr. Malos­se grad­u­at­ed from IEP, Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions Sec­tion in Par­is in 1976. He has Bach­e­lor DEA of East­ern and Cen­tral Euro­pe­an stud­ies and diplo­mas from the Uni­ver­si­ties of Munich and War­saw. He speaks Ger­man, Eng­lish, Pol­ish and Rus­sian.

- Mr. Malos­se, you recent­ly said that there is one year to make sure that 25 May 2014 does not mark the final divorce between Euro­pe­ans and Europe. What is the pos­si­ble way to avoid this sce­nar­io?
- The way accord­ing to me is that the Euro­pe­an Union chan­ges its pri­or­i­ty and puts very con­crete ques­tion con­cern­ing the Euro­pe­an cit­i­zens as top pri­or­i­ty and not the ques­tion on the lev­el of the euro or the reac­tions of the finan­cial mar­kets. We hope that the Euro­pe­an Coun­cil at the end of June will adopt an agen­da for growth, jobs and invest­ments for Europe. We show con­cern about three very con­crete ques­tions – how to restart the growth in Europe, how to restart the invest­ments, how to cre­ate more jobs main­ly for the young peo­ple. If we begin soon very con­crete action there could be a hope that on 25 May 2014, when the Euro­pe­an elec­tions will be held, the Euro­pe­an cit­i­zens could under­stand that the EU is the solu­tion and not the prob­lem. But today we think that it is the prob­lem.
- How in your view can the Euro­pe­an con­struc­tion be re-launched?
- It could be done by con­crete actions and by put­ting cit­i­zens in the driv­er’s seat. I think the Euro­pe­an cit­i­zens do not need a strat­e­gy for 2020. When you are job­less, you are not inter­est­ed to know that in 7 years you could get may­be a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion, you do not want to wait and want to have a job now. I always remind the ideas of one of the found­ing fathers of the Euro­pe­an Union – Jean Mon­net, to build upon con­crete action. Peo­ple need con­crete steps. The EESC is now work­ing on very con­crete pro­jects, for exam­ple, one con­cern­ing unem­ploy­ment among the young peo­ple. I do not think that the Youth guar­an­tee is enough. It’s just a polit­i­cal slo­gan. We need to focus, in the next finan­cial frame­work pro­gramme, on the young peo­ple and help them to get a job or an appren­tice­ship in a com­pa­ny. Today the main con­cern is access to first jobs. We should focus all social funds and not dis­trib­ute to munic­i­pal­i­ties to please one or anoth­er but con­cen­trate the funds for youth employ­ment. In Europe we have more than 20 mil­lion com­pa­nies and we have 6 mil­lion young peo­ple with­out a job. The­o­ret­i­cal­ly, if one third of these com­pa­nies hire one appren­tice it will solve the prob­lem of youth unem­ploy­ment. I think if the entre­pre­neurs get some very con­crete sig­nals from the EU, from their nation­al gov­ern­ments – con­cern­ing tax reduc­tion, flat tax rate, less bureauc­ra­cy, sup­port to hire young peo­ple as appren­tice, train­ee or as new employ­ee, they will do that. In July, we will pro­pose to the Euro­pe­an Com­mis­sion very con­crete actions for youth employ­ment. The EESC will pro­pose the move toward min­i­mum income in all Euro­pe­an coun­tries. Anoth­er pro­pos­al that we will put on the table is on entre­pre­neur­ship: to decrease the tax­a­tion on com­pa­nies – main­ly on SMEs – and to sup­port their access to finance. The next pro­pos­al will be on using the Euro­pe­an funds to improve the qual­i­ty of life. We would like to see the EU funds used in two main aspects – youth unem­ploy­ment and rural are­as. For exam­ple, in Bul­gar­ia you have a dra­mat­ic sit­u­a­tion. Apart from Sofia, Var­na, Plov­div, Bur­gas, it is a desert. We want to focus on these few items. It will take time, but we need to start. We will urge the Com­mis­sion to meet with the social part­ners at the Euro­pe­an lev­el as we have one year to start giv­ing pos­i­tive sig­nals that we think about the cit­i­zens, not to just make the­o­ret­i­cal strat­e­gies and macro­e­co­nom­ic bal­an­ces. It is time to act and to see the results. In the US two years ago, which was approx­i­mate­ly in the same sit­u­a­tion as in Europe, they gave more impuls­es in some are­as, they devel­oped some pro­grammes for SMEs, they gave tax incen­tives for job cre­a­tion; and that is what we should do at the Euro­pe­an and nation­al lev­el.
- Can Europe accom­plish its ambi­tions till the end of the dec­ade with a reduced budg­et?
- First of all, we have no choice. I am very crit­i­cal to the Com­mis­sion and I think it should with­draw this budg­et but let us see what the Euro­pe­an Par­lia­ment will decide. I per­son­al­ly deep­ly regret that the EU Coun­cil reduced this budg­et but we have to be prag­mat­ic and have to live with that. We have to con­cen­trate this budg­et, even if it is reduced, and start to focus on clear pri­or­i­ties. For exam­ple, Bul­gar­ia can con­cen­trate all EU funds on youth unem­ploy­ment and on the issue of ‘de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion’ of rural are­as and coun­try­side, and not to please any­body – may­ors, or polit­i­cal par­ties… Sec­ond­ly, we should have more com­ple­men­ta­ry action between the nation­al and local funds. Today there is dupli­ca­tion and nobody knows who is doing what. The repar­ti­tion of fund­ing should be clear­er. I do not think it is a good idea that all the actors take part in the budg­et of each project. In our view it will be much bet­ter to have a divide, show­ing “the EU is doing this, the state is doing that.” This will give clear respon­si­bil­i­ties. Last point is of course to have bet­ter gov­ern­ance of the funds. Now it takes so much time, there is pos­si­bil­i­ty of cor­rup­tion, the bureauc­ra­cy is huge and it doesn’t work.  If you are a small entre­pre­neur, my advice is always to not ask for EU fund­ing because you are to get any­thing – it will take two years and a half, and you need a 50-page appli­ca­tion. It is a night­mare. It is nec­es­sa­ry to make a clear repar­ti­tion of funds and to include pri­vate part­ners in favour of PPPs. There is a very good PPP pro­pos­al if you look at the Dan­ube Strat­e­gy – a project for build­ing a new bridge between Bul­gar­ia and Roma­nia. Today there are just two bridg­es and huge traf­fic. There are a lot of invest­ors that could be inter­est­ed in financ­ing this bridge but against them they have three bureauc­ra­cies – the Euro­pe­an, the Roma­ni­an and the Bul­gar­i­an. So, instead of hav­ing a project that could start now, it will start in 10 years. For me bureauc­ra­cy is the main obsta­cle to the use of EU funds. It is not the amount of mon­ey; we have what we have, but we have to use it in a smart­er way.
- How excit­ed are the Euro­pe­ans about their new right to par­tic­i­pate in the pol­i­cy-mak­ing that the Euro­pe­an Cit­i­zens’ Ini­ti­a­tive is giv­ing?
- I think the ECI is an excel­lent project and I per­son­al­ly sup­port it. I was proud to be the first to sign two of them and soon prob­a­bly I will sign anoth­er one. The ini­ti­a­tive ‘One sin­gle tar­iff,’ it is about ban­ning the roam­ing fees. The oth­er is on gen­der issues to sup­port wom­en’s employ­ment and I will be the first to sign it, because we have to put into leg­is­la­tion a way to avoid dis­crim­i­na­tion against wom­en in busi­ness and to sup­port more wom­en on cor­po­rate boards, as it was pro­posed by the EC Vice Pres­i­dent Red­ing. The Com­mis­sion was asked to pre­pare a leg­is­la­tion to sup­port the cit­i­zens’ ini­ti­a­tive because it is not show­ing a real­ly pos­i­tive atti­tude towards this ini­ti­a­tive, and is cre­at­ing more and more reg­u­la­tions, com­pli­ca­tions and so on. They should pro­mote these ini­ti­a­tives and not try to restrict them.
- What is most alarm­ing now con­cern­ing the tax havens and tax eva­sion? The EESC pub­lished a month ago its opin­ion on this top­ic.
- The most alarm­ing is that ECO­FIN Coun­cil in May didn’t find an agree­ment on the pro­pos­al made by Com­mis­sion­er Sem­e­ta on auto­mat­ic exchange of infor­ma­tion between the coun­tries inside of the EU due to the neg­a­tive approach of two coun­tries – Aus­tria and Lux­em­bourg. And at the last Euro­pe­an Coun­cil the deci­sion was post­poned for the end of the year. I think this gave a very neg­a­tive sig­nal to the cit­i­zens. Tax eva­sion will always exist, eth­i­cal­ly it is like cor­rup­tion, but we have to try to lim­it it. Tax eva­sion inside the EU, due to the fact that some Mem­ber States are tax havens for their neigh­bour coun­tries, is scan­dal­ous. How can we have an EU where peo­ple can use the free­dom of move­ment of cap­i­tals from one coun­try to anoth­er to avoid pay­ing tax­es? Tax eva­sion costs each Euro­pe­an cit­i­zen €2,000 a year, and the whole annu­al amount is the same as the EU budg­et for the next 7 years. The auto­mat­ic exchange of infor­ma­tion will not com­plete­ly end tax eva­sion but it will make it more dif­fi­cult. In our EESC opin­ion we pro­posed to have a black list of fre­quent fraud­sters com­pa­nies like, for exam­ple, Apple and Star­bucks. I asked the Com­mis­sion for more cour­age in this respect.
- Accord­ing to Oxfam’s lat­est data, two-thirds of the glob­al off­shore wealth, more than $12 tril­lion, is hid­den in EU-relat­ed tax havens. Does this seem real?
- I can­not ver­i­fy these fig­ures. May­be not such a high amount, but the fact is that many coun­tries are tax havens for their neigh­bours, for exam­ple France and Bel­gi­um. That is why we urge for black lists of coun­tries and com­pa­nies, and for tax har­mo­ni­sa­tion. We will nev­er avoid tax eva­sion inside the EU if we do not go to har­mo­ni­sa­tion of com­pa­ny tax, of course not at the highest tax lev­el, but on the flat tax rates. The Com­mis­sion now has a man­date to nego­ti­ate with Liech­ten­stein, Mon­a­co, Ando­ra and oth­er coun­tries and I think we will suc­ceed. We have to con­trol more accu­rate­ly the banks because some­times the Euro­pe­an banks devel­op these tax havens – this does not come from the cit­i­zens of the Cay­man Islands.
- What pol­i­cies at the EU lev­el can boost entre­pre­neur­ship among the young peo­ple?
- First of all, we must cre­ate a cli­mate of more con­fi­dence. We will pre­pare a pro­pos­al for entre­pre­neur­ship and it is impor­tant that we work on edu­ca­tion as well. Today in schools and uni­ver­si­ties they nev­er teach you to be an entre­pre­neur, to take risk. We urge entre­pre­neurs to vis­it schools and col­leg­es and explain to stu­dents their expe­ri­ence, say­ing “look – this is how I suc­ceed­ed to become an entre­pre­neur; not because my fam­i­ly was wealthy, but because I had an idea and I real­ly want­ed it.” Access to finance is also an obsta­cle for the young peo­ple to cre­ate a busi­ness, and of course bureauc­ra­cy. In France, even before you start a busi­ness you have to pay this and this, they ask you to ful­fil all the obli­ga­tions so at the end you are real­ly a sort of “kami­ka­ze”, because every­thing is done to pre­vent you from cre­at­ing a busi­ness.
- What should be done for reviv­ing Euro­pe­an indus­try?
- Pri­ma­ri­ly, it is nec­es­sa­ry to make EU pol­i­cies coher­ent. The com­pe­ti­tion pol­i­cy should be adapt­ed to today’s sit­u­a­tion. We can have a very tough com­pe­ti­tion pol­i­cy in a sit­u­a­tion of growth, but in the dif­fi­cul­ties that we have today, what the Com­mis­sion is doing does not help busi­ness. In a lot of cas­es we need more coop­er­a­tion between the Euro­pe­an indus­tries as for exam­ple the steel and car indus­tries. To be frank, if today we had to rebuild the indus­try led by Air­bus, prob­a­bly Com­mis­sion Vice-Pres­i­dent Almu­nia would block it and the result would be that Boe­ing would be num­ber one in the world. State aid pol­i­cy should be more open and flex­i­ble in the time of cri­sis. The sec­ond pol­i­cy that has to be changed is trade pol­i­cy. I do not like the fact that the same day when Mr. Tajani, Vice Pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion, was in the UK vis­it­ing a car man­u­fac­tur­er and explained that we need a strat­e­gy in Europe for the car indus­tries to make them work clos­er, the Trade Com­mis­sion­er Mr. De Gucht signed a free trade agree­ment with South Korea. It will destroy some­thing like one fourth of the jobs in the Euro­pe­an car indus­try. I am not a pro­tec­tion­ist but I think we should fight for our own inter­ests. Today we are los­ing thou­sands of jobs just because the Com­mis­sion has an ide­ol­o­gy of free trade. So the way for­ward is to pro­mote indus­tri­al coop­er­a­tion in Europe on var­i­ous sec­tors between the Euro­pe­an entre­pre­neurs. More­over, we should be much more prag­mat­ic con­cern­ing free trade. Free trade should be based on rec­i­proc­i­ty and respect, on both sides, and social and eco­nom­ic con­di­tions.

Maria Koleva Maria Koleva

Maria Koleva is the Еuropost's correspondent in Brussels. Her articles from the capital of Europe follow the busy agenda of the EU institutions, agencies, as well as of the civil society organisations, think thanks and professional associations.

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About Author

Maria Koleva
Maria Koleva

Maria Koleva is the Еuropost's correspondent in Brussels. Her articles from the capital of Europe follow the busy agenda of the EU institutions, agencies, as well as of the civil society organisations, think thanks and professional associations.