Martina Dlabajová: I won't let Czech SMEs down

Text Jana Jenšíková Foto Patrik Pšeja Publikováno

She often says that despite her current occupation in politics, she will always be an entrepreneur at heart. At the age of 18, she went to study in Italy and later founded her first company while still at university. She then gradually expanded her business from Italy to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria. After twenty years of living abroad, she returned to her native city of Zlín to settle down and become the president of the Regional Chamber of Commerce of the Zlín Region. Later she was offered the opportunity to capitalize on her experience in European politics. She hesitated for a moment, but the responsibility coming with the challenge overcame all doubts and fears in the end. How has she managed to defend the interests of Czech entrepreneurs in the European Parliament for eight years? Can a woman from a small country change anything at all? What is now going on in the EU institutions and what should Czech entrepreneurs look out for? We talked about all this with Martina Dlabajová, Member of the European Parliament.

Martina, you ran for the European Parliament also to be able to help Czech companies, particularly SMEs, from there. Why did you make this decision?

I ran my own business for twenty years. I had several companies in different parts of Europe and I went through the same stuff as other entrepreneurs. Thanks to this experience, I know what the biggest setbacks for them are and what we should do to make companies in Europe do better. When I came back home, I worked for two years as the president of the Regional Chamber of Commerce in the Zlín Region, where I learned to listen even better to the problems and needs of others. Then I entered politics with all this experience. I felt I could really help. Business owners don't require that much. They usually want to do their business in peace. They need a stable and predictable business environment and as little unnecessary paperwork as possible, as bureaucracy takes their time, energy and money.

Another reason was that I am a convinced European at heart. I know it sounds like a cliché, but even though I always considered the Czech Republic as my home, life in Italy taught me to stay on top of things. It also made me love Europe and gave me the belief that if we Europeans all come together, we can only be stronger.

I try to keep my decisions realistic and feasible

As a Member of the European Parliament, how exactly do you help Czech SMEs?

It has several levels. I try to work directly with entrepreneurs or their organizations to look for problems in existing European legislation and eliminate them. I spend a lot of time judging every proposal that we pass as the European Parliament from the SMEs point of view. I always ask myself what it will bring them and whether it is needed at all. It should work this way everywhere by default, but legislative proposals are still being made that are completely detached from reality – this is quite frustrating.

That is why I have gathered colleagues in the European Parliament who feel the same way. Many of them came into politics from a business environment, just like myself. We meet regularly to discuss problems and to look for ways to help SMEs. You know, this day-to-day, systematic work may not be visible at first glance, and it gets very little attention in the media. I personally consider it a huge success when we manage to change just one sentence, add one word or delete another in the new legislation, because even such a small thing can bring great things as a result. You just have to wait a while before it shows.

Even small things we enforce in the European Parliament in favour of SMEs can bring great things as a result.

Can you give us a specific example?

I can think of a relatively new one. It took place last December during the final negotiations on the design of a European innovation and research programme called Horizon Europe, the largest programme of its kind in the world. After several hours of really tense negotiations, I managed to convince others to focus this programme primarily on SMEs. As a result, innovative small companies or start-ups can get at very decent financing offered by this programme. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that this thanks to one sentence promptly added at four o'clock in the morning.

Path to the Digital Decade

I know you also focus a lot on digitization. What are you currently working on in the European Parliament and what will it bring to Czech companies?

A few days ago, I was very pleased because I managed to bring the The Path to the Digital Decade report to a successful conclusion in the European Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. This is essentially a concrete plan for the EU to make the most of new technologies so that the general public and, of course, businesses, regardless of their size, can benefit from it. The plan envisages, for example, digital skills, completion of digital infrastructure, but also support of major joint projects across Europe in AI or cybersecurity. Now we’re going to final negotiations at the level of all EU institutions. I will lead them on behalf of the European Parliament, and I am already looking forward to it, because they will take place during the Czech Presidency. Our country therefore has a big opportunity to leave its imprint on the plan for the next decade.

What other plans have you got for the coming weeks?

Personally, I am very much looking forward to the summer now, not because of the sun, but because of the so-called State of SMEs Union joint debate in the EU institutions. It may sound a bit awkward, but it is basically a regular public account of what has been done at the European level over the past year in favour of SMEs. Last year, this exchange between key EU institutions took place for the first time and there was quite a stir. This year is the second iteration, and whoever might be interested in watching, there will be a live broadcast from Strasbourg on the European Parliament's website.

I just want to say that I am really proud of it, because I have been calling for such an event for several years. The EU institutions started doing something similar in the energy sector years ago, and our group of MEPs who support SMEs in the European Parliament just got inspired. Again, it may sound like a small thing, but to me, it has a big importance. If EU institutions talk openly to the public and the entrepreneurs themselves, they commit themselves to improving the situation as soon as possible. I see it as a huge step forward.

Ms Dlabajová was interviewed by Jana Jenšíková

Photo credit: Patrik Pšeja

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