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Erminia Mazzoni

It’s been only a year from your election, yet it seems like a century ago. You had to face the effects of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, gas and energy crisis, inflation and last but not least the so-called Qatar Gate. How did this all change the European Union?

Indeed, 2022 has been a challenging year for Europe, but I am proud of how the European Union has responded. When we faced Putin’s illegal aggression on sovereign Ukraine, we showed unprecedented unity. This attack has made us realize that what we used to take for granted - peace on our continent, democracy, the rule of law - is actually under threat and must be protected. Europe is more determined than ever to stand up for its values, and the European Parliament will continue to be at the forefront of this fight.

Regarding the alleged corruption case, the European Parliament will continue to do everything in its power to assist in investigations, and make sure that there is no impunity. There were loopholes in the European Parliament that the corrupts used. We need to make sure alarm bells go off earlier and put in firewalls to make our systems more watertight.

Citizens deserve to be served by a modern, transparent and efficient European Parliament. Rebuilding our citizens’ trust is my priority, which is why I want the reforms to be passed quickly. Now there will be more controls.

Recently on Twitter you said “It is time for giant leaps to replace small steps”. What should be the first?

It is of utmost priority that we return to growth and lower our dependencies. Our citizens are worried about rising living costs, and look to us for leadership, answers and actions. We must help respond to their concerns, and the only way forward is by uniting. We must show them that our way of approaching challenges works, that our Union is efficient and delivers.

The European Commission adopted the proposal to make 2023 the European Year of Skills, aiming at boosting competitiveness, investment in training and upskilling opportunities. Do you think this initiative will also help to increase the presence of women, young people and vulnerable groups on the labour market?

As co-legislator, the European Parliament fully supports 2023 as the European Year of Skills. It will be an excellent opportunity to promote lifelong learning, take stock of what we have already achieved and determine what more can be done to empower people and companies. Furthermore, considering the strong link between a skilled workforce and the success of the twin transition, we also welcome the fact that the European Commission made it a top priority in its new “Green Deal Industrial Plan”.

Do you agree that Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but even a keystone of a prosperous, modern economy that provides sustainable inclusive growth?

Absolutely. In addition to being one of the European Union’s core values, enshrined in the treaties, achieving gender equality is a priority for the European Parliament and myself. We believe that equal participation in decision-making is a matter of justice, respect for fundamental rights and good governance.

Last autumn, this House has proven its commitment to gender equality by meeting its rhetoric with concrete actions. The Women on Boards Directive, calling for at least 40% of non-executive board seats to be filled by the “under-represented sex”, was adopted after 10 years of deadlock, thanks to the perseverance of the Parliament. One may also underline the work of the Parliament’s FEMM committee, which focuses on gender-related topics, such as the empowerment of female entrepreneurs, or the promotion of gender equality in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematic).

Long-term unemployment, closely associated with poverty and social exclusion, stems, for the most, from a lack of the skills currently in demand by employers and, like in a vicious circle, rises because the longer people are unemployed, the more outdated their skills may become. Does the 2021-2027 EU programming cycle take this challenge on?

Considering our digital and green transition objectives and their impact on the job market, making sure that workers’ skills match employers’ needs is an absolute priority of the Union, especially if we want to promote European leadership in these sectors.

There are various EU funding programmes in the current long-term budget cycle, such as InvestEU, the European Investment Fund but also the unprecedented NextGenerationEU that have dedicated instruments looking at training, education or reskilling opportunities.

Moreover, the European Social Fund has been the key instrument to tackle the skills challenge across the EU. One can mention for instance the House of Skills, a retraining center in Amsterdam bringing together a wide range of actors to focus on this very much needed topic.

“In terms of enterprise numbers, the vast majority of SMEs belong to the smallest size category, with micro-sized enterprises accounting for 21.6 million of the 23.1 million SMEs in the European Union.” (Statista – Article by D. Clark, Aug 24, 2022). Don’t you think that the European Union should do more to support microfinance and microcredit?

The economic weight of micro-enterprises - enterprises employing up to 9 people - is considerable, as they represent over 90% of European enterprises. Lack of access to finance is a major obstacle for them, which is why microcredits, for instance through the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation or Commission funding, are vital to support them to boost jobs, growth and investment in Europe.

This is an area where we can and should do more, especially considering the current difficulties, particularly for these companies.

Financial Measures and actions to promote, at EU level, sustainable transition and digital transformation can be valuable opportunities also for micro-sized enterprises?

Absolutely. The top issue for the remaining mandate is the EU’s competitiveness whilst accelerating the green and digital transition. Especially in the current challenging context, micro-enterprises, especially in key industry sectors, are vital for our EU economy as a driver of growth and innovation, which we need to achieve the twin transition.

This is why we need to provide for the right regulatory framework on access to finance, enabling synergies and removing barriers, for them to be empowered and prosper in our Single Market.

The EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI), the financing instrument at EU level “to promote a high level of quality and sustainable employment, guaranteeing adequate and decent social protection, combating social exclusion and poverty and improving working conditions”, did prove to be effective? What do you think about the decision to put, for the period 2021 – 2027, the EaSI programme under the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+)?

Experience has shown that integrated instruments are a very efficient way forward of EU funding on social objectives.

Therefore, making the EaSI programme a strand of the European Social Fund Plus and continuing to have it directly managed by the European Commission is strengthening EU action to strengthen social protection and inclusion, fair working conditions, equal access to the labour market, social entrepreneurship and labour mobility.

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