Brexit 'not about high politics but the economy' entrepreneurs forum told

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani gives the opening address to the European Parliament of Enterprises in Brussels
Gary McDonald, Business Editor, in Brussels

BREXIT is not about high politics, but about businesses, communities and jobs, an entrepreneurs forum in Brussels has been told.

The final European Parliament of Enterprises of the 2014-19 legislative term saw more than 700 entrepreneurs sent a clear message to the ongoing debate on the future of Europe - that the EU must be open for business.

The event was organised by EUROCHAMBRES, which claims to act as the eyes, ears and voice of the business community at EU level.

It represents more than 20 million businesses in Europe through network of 1700 regional and local chambers of commerce. More than 93 per cent of these businesses are SMEs and employ a combined 120 million people.

The delegates - including a number from Ireland - debated and voted in sessions on skills, trade and the future of Europe in the presence of high-level institutional representatives, including European Parliament president Antonio Tajani and chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

President Tajani told the forum: “Without work there is no dignity. One of the EU's main priorities should be to work to make Europe more SME-friendly. They account for 85 per cent of new jobs and two thirds of private employment in the EU. That is why we need to work towards a Union that is fit for purpose: you are the real economy and your concerns must also be ours.

“By working to support the competitiveness of our SMEs, we ensure healthy growth, jobs for young people and reduce economic and social imbalances between our regions.

“All our policies, from the internal market to energy, digital, investment, research, credit, training or international trade must provide our businesses with the best conditions to compete on the global stage."

He added: “Only at the EU level can we respond to the major challenges we face: the technological revolution, competition from economic giants such as the USA, China or India, climate change, consumer protection or property rights.”

EUROCHAMBRES president Christoph Leitl highlighted the problem of mismatches between supply and demand.

He said: “We have more graduates than ever in Europe and incredibly talented young people entering the labour market, but what good is this if they cannot find work and employers cannot find staff with the right skills? We must do better in ensuring that education prepares young people for current and emerging employment opportunities.”

On trade, he added: “Brexit negotiators from both sides must focus fully on avoiding a no-deal outcome next March. This is not about high politics, it's about businesses, communities and jobs. The clock is ticking, so we must work efficiently to ensure an orderly, trade oriented UK withdrawal.”

Voting highlights from the European Parliament of Enterprises 2018 included:

:: 84 per cent stated that the skills mismatch problem is more acute than 5 years ago.

:: 93 per cent voted that the integrity of the Single Market and EU unity take precedent over a favourable Brexit deal with the UK.

:: 99 per cent believe that the EU must do more to help SMEs benefit from free trade agreements.

:: 69 per cent do not believe that the Single Market is fit for business.

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