Pablo Zalba Bidegáin is a Spanish MEP who is a member of the Group of the European Peoples Party. As Vice-Chair of Economic and Monetary Affairs, he speaks to UNITEE about the importance of entrepreneurship, the role of SMEs and ways to improve the status of youth unemployment rates in EU countries like Spain.
Why did you decide to enter politics and why did you choose European politics?
The Partido Popular and Unión del Pueblo Navarro used to conform a successful alliance in my Autonomous Community, in Navarra. When this alliance broke, given that I had always felt close to Partido Popular, I decided to support the Party in a difficult moment. Once the EU elections got closer, they realised they needed someone with business expertise, and they asked me to enter politics.
I had never thought to enter but, to be honest, I had always been passionate about European politics. It was a moment which, it was already clear, was going to be crucial, as we were living in the months previous to the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, and we were all aware of the importance the Eurochamber was going to have. Additionally, we were experiencing an economic crisis in which many EU-level reforms were going to be needed. Then, I decided to step in.
In your opinion, what will be the EU citizens’ greatest concerns addressed in the upcoming European Parliament elections and how can the EPP respond to them?
We now live in a transcendental moment for Europe. I think that we are not fully aware of the important advancements we have achieved during this last term towards a greater economic integration and, ultimately, political integration.
In my opinion, during the oncoming months and years, we will face two main challenges: keep on advancing towards the very much desired and needed economic and political unity and, secondly, to provide the new process of governance we are immersed in with political legitimacy.
Whether it advances in one or another direction depends, to a great extent, on the result of the upcoming European elections. Therefore, these elections are extremely important.
What changes would you, personally, like to see at the European level?
I would like to keep on working on the economic and political union, I would like to see the third pillar of the banking union soon: a common fund of deposit guarantees. I would like to see a Europe with more democratic legitimacy, it is key to it that the European Parliament plays a more active role in the political control of the Commission.
I would also like to see that the basis for Eurobonds are settled: provide the Eurozone with some Eurobonds that, in spite of being the end of a whole process, are more necessary than ever.
Spain is one of the countries in the European Union with a highest unemployment rate, especially amongst the young population. Which European economic policies can help tackling such a situation as in Spain and, also, in other EU Member States?
There are several ways to address this issue. First, an important tool, but not sufficient at all, is the Youth Guarantee the European Commission has launched. It counts on 6 billion euros, out of which almost 2 billion are for Spain. It is very, very important that those funds arrive to the countries as soon as possible.
Obviously, this will not be the solution to unemployment. The solution to unemployment will come, in my opinion, by facilitating and incentivising companies to hire workers. And, also, by making it easier for those who want to create a new company; this is, entrepreneurs: facilitating the process for them as much as possible so that they can reach their objective.
In my opinion, the main problem that we are facing in order to achieve these two goals is the lack of credit. How can we make credit arrive to SMEs, enterprises in general and families? In the medium and long term, the banking union will, no doubt, help to resolve the problem, and will help to incentivise growth too, but that is not enough.
We have to confront the problem from a short-term point of view, we need to act now and for the short term so that the credit arrives to SMEs, families and enterprises in general. In a context in which inflation is very much under the objective fixed by the European Central Bank, the action of the ECB, which can and must do more about it, is more necessary than ever.
I have been advocating for this for months, and, during the past weeks, the IMF and the European Commission are also insisting in this same direction.
UNITEE is a business confederation that represents more than 12,000 SMEs and 3,500 business professionals. You are Vice-Chair of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, as well as substitute at the Committee on International Trade. According to you, how can SMEs and entrepreneurship stimulate economic growth in the European Union?
Small and medium enterprises must be the main characters in economic recovery and job creation, I have no doubt about it. Just an example: in Europe, there are 25 million unemployed people and 23 million SMEs. Just if each one of the EU SMEs hired one single worker, the unemployment problem would be solved.
How can we help SMEs? I think there are three keys:
Internal market: strengthening the single market in the EU and, especially, the digital market.
Second, internationalisation. It is key to SMEs’ job creation that they have an easier access to international markets. This term has been a success in this respect, as free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, Central America an Peru have entered into force, and we are working in this direction.
There are currently agreements under negotiation with Japan and United States, among others. The agreement with the US, known as TTIP, “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Premises”, is a crucial tool for growth and job creation in the future.
If this is important for the private sector, more so in the case of SMEs, because this agreement is not only about costume reduction; it is, overall, a mutual recognition of regularisation in order to harmonise the different standards between the US and the EU. At the moment, if a big company wants to grow and sell their products to the US, it is much easier for it to homologise its products there than it is for an SME, for which it implies, due to obvious reasons, a much costly price.
I believe that these are the three guidelines: internal market, growth and international agreements; especially, the TTIP.
Euro-scepticism and anti-immigration parties are rising, we have seen this trend in multiple countries in Europe. UNITEE represents entrepreneurs and business professionals with a migrant background; New Europeans, as we call them. Do you think that immigrant entrepreneurship should be fostered?
Entrepreneurship needs to be fostered in all stratums of society: youth, old people, urban citizens, rural citizens, immigrants in a legal status… I believe this is a priority objective.
How could entrepreneurship be fostered amongst this last group, New Europeans?
I believe they are the same as us and, therefore, it must be fostered in the same way as it is done with people who have been born and lived in the EU for all their life. I would not make any distinction in this respect.
How can the European Union in general, and the EPP in particular, increase the public opinion’s awareness on the positive contributions of diversity to the EU?
With a lot of pedagogy. This is something that gets easier and easier to do as, in the EU, we are more aware of the importance of diversity. What has helped the most to, somehow, unite the EU is the Erasmus programme. I think that it is something we should look up to as an example of what needs to be done.
You recently released a report on the benefits of card payment ceilings. Can you tell us more about this report and about the work of the EU in this field?
It is good news. This is going to mean saving to the consumers, to make card payments easier, to make the anti-fraud fight more agile and to bring more transparency. When consumers pay with credit card, they will know what for and why they are paying at any time.
This is an extra reason for citizens to perceive the importance of Europe and of these elections. I hope that, with measures like this one, we achieve to convince the citizenship about the importance of Europe.
Last but not least, how can your Party convince the citizens about the importance of Europe? What can it provide them with in the upcoming European elections?
We need to explain what we have done in this first term and what we are going to do in the next ones; to explain that this is a transcendental moment for the EU. And I believe that citizens are intelligent and will understand the importance of these elections.