Promoting SMEs and their businesses oversees. Interview with Jan Zahradil MEP.

Scientific researcher by profession, the Czech Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Jan Zahradil, entered politics after the Velvet Revolution, which led to the construction of a new Czech political system. Mr Zahradil is Vice-Chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists’ (ECR) political group in the European Parliament and member of the International Trade Committee.

In the upcoming 2014 European Elections, the ECR Group will stand for: cutting red tape, reducing public expenditure, promoting free trade and encouraging entrepreneurship.

It is your second mandate as an MEP and you have often said that the EU needs a paradigm change, in order to achieve more balance between member states’ powers and EU powers. Which are the main causes of this imbalance and the measures that should be implemented to find the right balance?

In some areas, European integration went too far and the ECR group wants to reform this: one size doesn’t fit all and individual countries have various needs, responsibilities and strategies. So it’s not necessary to always go in the same direction and speed. We rather promote a looser than a tighter European structure; we can call it multi-speed Europe. One thing is clear to us: this integrationist model based on the “Ever Closer Union” slogan simply does not work anymore so we have to find a more fitting paradigm for the 21st century.

The economic crisis, five years after it began, is still hitting our economy. How is it possible for Europe to get back on track? Which are the recommendations of your political group, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group on the issue?

We think it is necessary to cut the red tape in those states who went too far in public expenditure, reduce their budgets, and promote entrepreneurship and international trade. Also, operate more from a pragmatic point of view, abandoning all these ideological schemes about how the European integration should work, and focusing on what could bring benefits to individual states and citizens in those states.

As the European elections are coming up soon, what issues do you think will be central for the European population in the elections?

My experience tells me that people tend to decide according to their national preferences, when voting for the opposition, because they want to punish the government or send some signals. So I am not sure whether some big European issues can play a role in the campaign.

Last year, you were in charge of the legislative report on “Financing European SMEs’ trade and investment: facilitated access to credit in support of internationalisation”. How can we help SMEs to start doing business beyond their borders, first within the EU area, second on the international market?

A better European coordination and cooperation, together with some new tools and instruments on the European level, could be very well complementary to what already exists at the national level. So the aim is to use what already exists in national states, put it together and create a new mechanism of guarantee, especially for financing or giving credits to SMEs to promote their businesses oversees or abroad.

“New Europeans” is a concept defined by the European Commission as “people who live in the EU and have connections with more than just the country where they live (whether this is another Member State, a European country outside the EU, or a non-European country).” Immigration and a New European workforce can have a considerable positive effect on the performance of businesses. Do you think Europe is fully using the potentials of New Europeans?

 Europe could use its potentials better, if only European institutions would be willing to remove some current regulations. We need a very thoughtful revision of the whole package of ‘Acquis Communautaires’ of the community law, and to remove those parts of the community law which are either not used very frequently or which could even be a burden for businesses in Europe. We need more de-regulation and a new legal framework that would not curve the potential that definitely exists in Europe.

Do you think business organisations, such as UNITEE, have a key role in bringing the added value of entrepreneurs with a migrant background to light?

I have had very good experience with various business and professional groups. They have been very helpful so far in analysing situations, providing us with background materials and sometimes it is useful to rely on their experience. So, it is in our own interest to work with them and cooperation with business organizations, which has been very successful so far.

As a member of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, you are familiar with EU-Turkey relations. What are the strongest economic links between Turkey and the EU?

I think that on the economic, business and trade level, EU-Turkey relations probably couldn’t be closer than they are. Some improvements are still to be made, particularly in the area of Visas. But due to the customs Union, I think that so far, we have the closest possible rapprochement we could have and I think that it is mutually beneficial for both sides.

As for the debate on the political aspects, frankly, I am not very happy about the attitude of some particular states that seem to rather delay a serious talk about a future Turkish membership in the EU. Once the EU promised to lead real talks with Turkey about real membership, it cannot stop in mid-time and try to offer something different instead.

Which will be the core issues in your personal campaign for the next elections? What is your vision for the future of the EU and what is the message to encourage European citizens to vote?

Reform is the main slogan we have, and a straightforward example is: a change of the EU’s primal role is sought for in order for each individual state to decide not to participate in every single policy decided by the Union. At the time being, what is decided at the EU level becomes a policy that must be implemented at the national level. In terms of European integration, we thus hope that many EU countries and citizens do share this vision for a paradigm change.

You can read the entire interview here:


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