European SME Business Club members – guests at the EPP Congress in Helsinki

On 7-8 November 2018 European SME Business Club members, with the invitation of the SME Europe of the EPP, were taking part at the XVI Congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Helsinki. EPP (Christian Democrats) is the largest group in the European Parliament holding 218 seats, with a vast family of political leaders and parties all over the EU and allied states.

At the Congress, our members were directly involved in the participation at the series of events dedicated to the digitalization of the EU and how to compete in the field with the USA and China, featuring Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel; Alexander Stubb, Former Prime Minister of Finland (2014-15), Vice-President of the European Investment Bank and candidate to the EPP nomination for the Presidency of the European Commission in the 2019 European Parliamentary election; Members of the European Parliament Henna Virkkunnen, Bendt Bendtsen, Ivan Stefanec, Iuliu Winkler, Michal Boni, Lukas Mandl, Dr. Paul RĆ¼big, Eva Maydell, Anna Maria Corazza Bildt as well as the representatives from Google, Uber, Amazon, eBay and other digital platforms as panelists.

However, the intrigue of the Congress was the battle among the two candidates Alex Stubb #NextGenerationEurope and Manfred Weber #BetterEurope to be elected as EPP Spitzenkandidat for the President of the European Commission. The two candidates were debating twice, presenting their programmes and vision for Europe for the next 5 years to the many delegates, after what the vote occurred giving the win to Manfred Weber. The whole process was indeed fascinating.

Let’s briefly walk through the programmes of the two candidates.

Alexander Stubb led an ambitious and impressively modern campaign. With his pro-European vision, he believes that the EU values should dominate every aspect of policymaking and calls on drastic measures for EU leaders whose policy style is based on “populism and feeding the fears of the society”. Here are some of his standpoints:

A vision for Europe: “We need more Europe where it makes sense, and less when it does not. What can be better done at the national or regional level should be done there”

Defend European values: “We need to stop politics driven by fear and hatred: our values are under attack from both inside and outside the EU – it is time to stand on the barricades and defend them”

Lead the Digital Revolution: “Taking the lead in the digital revolution means that we must focus on the future of work, innovation and the protection of individuals. Currently, all of the top 20 technology firms are from the US or China. Without investment in education, innovation, research, and development this trend will continue. European decision for improving tech infrastructure (5G), opportunities for EU companies and entrepreneurs, modern financial instruments will help in paving the way forward. As a regulatory superpower, the EU can take the lead in establishing international rules for a future world of artificial intelligence and robotization. Better to be a rule-maker, rather than a rule-taker.”

Make the EU economy work for everyone: “We all know that market liberalization stimulates growth and creates jobs, now we just have to figure out how to make it work for all Europeans. Europe must focus on modern sources of sustainable growth, including digitalization, creative industries, green growth, the circular economy, start-ups, sustainable and innovative food production and the like.”

Tackle climate change: “The changes in temperatures will have an unprecedented impact on our whole ecosystem, including weather patterns, species, sea levels, food security, and health. Reducing European emissions is not enough to save the world, but the technology that our pioneering companies develop will do so. We should work towards a carbon neutral Europe by 2045.”

Manage migration: “We solved the worst migration crisis and now it is time to show all Europeans that the situation is under control. We will not be able to survive by building walls. We should establish asylum centers outside the EU, strengthen Frontex, establish a quota for humanitarian based asylum seekers for each Member State or develop a system of flexible solidarity where member states can help each other in different ways, investing in growth and jobs in Africa.”

Create a more secure Europe: “We need to step in and fill the emerging power vacuums, whether they are in trade, foreign policy, defense or multilateralism. Member states and EU institutions should step up their efforts and build a true Security and Defence Union.”

Communicating Europe: “EU is the most successful piece and economy project, yet the perception of what it does could not be further from the truth. A good starting point is that political leaders stop blaming Brussels for their own failures.”

As to Manfred Weber, experienced politician currently chairing EPP Group in the European Parliament, he declares himself first of all a “bridge builder”:

#BetterEurope “A better Europe creates opportunities – 5 million new jobs for Europe with new and fair trade agreements, a strengthened single market and an ambitious Cohesion Policy. We cannot accept different living standards in Europe.”

“A better Europe is a Europe that protects: 10,000 additional Frontex officers to control our external borders; connect all our existing database to fight against criminals and return illegal migrants to their home countries.”

#StrongerTogether “A better Europe leads in digital innovation – we have to establish a true Innovation union that meets the challenges of the digital age. With the joint research strength of our continent, we could finally cure cancer and Alzheimer’s”

“A better Europe sticks to its identity: Europe is more than just a market – it is a Union of values. We will defend these values in Europe and worldwide, this is why, for example, Turkey cannot be a Member of the European Union.”

#YourEurope “A better Europe inspires young people: a massively stepped-up Erasmus+ programme and a long-lasting #DiscoverEU, giving Interrail passes to every 18-year old.

“A better Europe gives people a greater say – we need a stronger European Parliament and stronger national Parliaments with an efficient and accountable European Commission.”

SME Connect continues to follow the debates of other major political groups in the European Parliament – ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) and S&D (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats)