State aid rules within the European Union are being applied to peripheral or isolated regions and islands as if they belong to the mainstream and better endowed centres of the Union, LAbour MEP ALfred Sant said. This approach cannot be justified by the argument that structural and cohesion funds already compensate for the disadvantages with which these territories are burdened. They do not. The sectors of communications’ infrastructures, aid to small and medium enterprises, energy, the protection of traditional small scale activities in small islands like Malta and Gozo do not carry systemic significance in the context of the continental single market. To apply to these regions, the same treatment as for the centre of Europe, is helping to increase structural disparities that already exist between the centre and the periphery of the European Union.
Maltese MEP Alfred Sant made these remarks at the Plenary Session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg which started debating the Commission’s ‘Annual Competition Report for 2014’. Dr Sant is the Shadow Rapporteur for the Report which aims at giving a thorough criticism of the Commission's past work and focuses on the whole of the Almunia Commission (2009-2014). The Report is of special reference to small island states. It makes a series of references to the importance that when applying competition rules, the Commission should take special consideration of the social and economic impacts on peripheral and insular regions of the EU. It refers to insularregions – aiming at socioeconomic convergence & cohesion in the EU;State Aid for transport for insular regions ; State Aid to safeguardservices of general economic interests in the EU; Consumer rights through the implementation of EU Competition policy.
Dr Sant told the European Parliament that the Competition Report also raises the concerns about the scope, the powers and the methods of the Director-General for Competition . "Its remit amounts to one of the most powerful tools in the executive kit of the European Commission, indeed, of the European Union. The Director-General for Competition has the power to set and change market rules within the Union, affecting a wide range of economic and financial issues. It can – does – issue orders to governments, corporations big and small, regarding decisions they have taken or need to take. It is run by competent technocrats operating under the overall mantle of the Commission. In arriving at decisions, the Director-General carries out inquiries and investigations, following an opaque process of negotiations that happens mostly behind closed doors."
The Maltese MEP said there is an urgent need to review the modus operandi of the Director-General for Competition, as well as to reform its organization. "Political, economic, social, personal, national factors enter into play. In this, being big is of greater account than being small. There is little transparency, hardly any accountability. More: there is an overlap between those whose job it is to set the rules, and those implementing them. The two roles – of setting rules and of implementing them – should be institutionally separate and both should adopt more transparent methods," Dr Sant insisted.