Massimo Baldinato, born in 1971 in Vicenza, is a law graduate from Padua University. He is currently a Member of the Cabinet of Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship.
We chose to interview Mr. Baldinato, as he inspired us at an event we attended on the 22th of January “Unleashing Entrepreneurial Potential in Europe”. In fact, EPN shares Mr Baldinato’s thought that New Europeans have a main role in unlocking this enormous potential for jobs and growth.
At the event “Unleashing Entrepreneurial Potential in Europe” on the 22th January 2013, we were inspired by your speech when you spoke about creating a culture for entrepreneurs. We also believe that improving education is the key factor for young talents to be inspired and develop their careers. On the basis of what you said during the conference “we don’t need only enterprises but also better entrepreneurs”. Could you please explain to us how the new action plan will help to unleash entrepreneurs’ potential?
We are working on building a closer link between the educational system and companies, between entrepreneurship and schools that can provide young generations with basic knowledge at an early age. We need entrepreneurs to be creative, to be able to solve problems, to be rapid and efficient decision makers and to be able to adapt to the market conditions. Having a pragmatic approach to whatever you do in life is something that is no exclusive for entrepreneurs but can be also useful for a civil servant or an employee. This is the reason why the Action plan can benefit not only our future companies specifically, but also European society in general… Improving the framework conditions of entrepreneurship for potential and existing entrepreneurs is the key to unleash potential entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs need better accessibility to finance opportunities.
We are launching this platform in order to combine different actions at a European level. They are quite poor at the moment especially in terms of education. We can’t impose a model of education to all Member States because of their different educational systems, styles and traditions but already the idea of sharing and improving national curricula in order to achieve this goal is a big step forward.
The measures taken by Member States will be monitored by the European Commission within the framework of the European Semester and the Annual Growth Survey. This is a crucial point for Commissioner Tajani, who is strongly committed to actions and results, not small talk.
ABOUT THE 2020 ENTREPRENEURSHIP ACTION PLAN
In the Action Plan, section 4.2.3 refers to migrant entrepreneurs and where it uses ‘Silicon Valley’ as an example. We know that ‘Silicon Valley’ in the US is emblematic regarding the contributions of multicultural talents. The presence of multicultural brains represents almost 50% of the total force there. In reference to this, how do you think we could build our own Valley of Talents? Do you think the EU could take the US as an example?
Yes, as you just said this is something that we mention in the action plan. Here, we refer to Silicon Valley and Israel as the two countries where certain immigration policies have allowed these areas to attract entrepreneurs from other backgrounds. Silicon Valley is exactly something that is in line with our objectives, but we have to acknowledge the fact that there are many components to achieve a Silicon Valley in Europe! Attention must be paid to the integration policies that will allow these migrant entrepreneurs to have all the information they need and it is a quite complicated process. To conclude, I think that already having the ambition of transforming the European Union in an area which is very attractive for entrepreneurs coming from all around the world is something big! Part of our goal is to give more dynamism to our economy because we can’t remain passive (in relation to) against the international competitors.
ABOUT SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
We consider that social enterprises, as well as the European Commission, seek to serve to the community’s interest (social, common, environmental objectives) rather than achieving profit maximisation. They often have an innovative nature, environmental standards and they often employ socially excluded persons thus contributing to social cohesion, employment and the reduction of inequalities. We believe that social entrepreneurs can change the image of business for the better, above all New European entrepreneurs. The Action Plan aims at making entrepreneurship more attractive and orientates growth in Europe. So, how can social entrepreneurs help to achieve this objective?
Certainly yes, the main issue whilst talking about social enterprises is that they are enterprises, which do not take profit as their exclusive goal. Once there is a clear distinction between the different enterprises, one can asses in which area the social business or social entrepreneur can play a more prominent role. Mr. Tajani along with Mr. Michel Barnier adopted a Social Business Initiative in November 2011 and there is a clear recognition of the importance of developing the right environment for social businesses.
Although we understand the characteristics of social enterprises, we should not create a new group of companies because they are not completely different from the rest. What I mean with this is that there is a percentage of their daily activity specific to them as social enterprises; however, there are many other aspects, which are exactly the same as the other companies. Therefore, we include them in our general policy.
EPN in collaboration with UNITEE, have organized an event on the 2nd of March called “New European Talents for the EU”, with which we mean young talented professionals with migrant background. The aim of this event is to give advice and inspire these talents to work within the EU Institutions and to offer the possibility to discuss the integration of cultural diversity within them. We also want to tell them that the EU counts on future generations to bring in a new way of life to business. From the perspective of the diversity, do you believe that New Europeans could contribute to Europe’s innovation and competitiveness?
In general, we need good ideas and good ideas can come together to Europe with New Europeans, if the European Union manages to become a more attractive place to live in than it is now! This is kind of the same philosophy as the initiative “Missions for growth” leaded by Commissioner Antonio Tajani, in which he is fully involved. Recently, we visited North Africa and South America and in 2013, we will go to Russia, China and India. The basic philosophy of these missions is of course to connect with growth markets outside Europe and improve the European enterprises to gain better profit from fast growing and emerging markets, to boost competitiveness and to create employment. However, we also want to show that we are not surrendering passively to decline: that there is dynamism! We need to show that we are dynamic, to attract new young energies in the European Union. If we just accept to cope with high taxes, difficult access to finance and so on, it is then clear that the attractiveness would remain quite low.
So, do you agree on the fact that New Europeans can contribute positively to the European Union?
Yes, it goes without saying that Europe needs New Europeans to contribute to our economy and our business reality. They represent a pool of potential business players. In the action plan, sections 4.2.3. and 4.2.4. address specifically this group. Certainly, specific visa policies should be elaborated as well in order to address the issue of mobility but this is another area…
About women entrepreneurship, how the European Commission will try to create a climate that is favorable to increasing the number of women entrepreneurs and the size of existing business women? Which priorities have you identified for the future of female entrepreneurship? Studies reveal that the empowerment of women belongs to “smart economies” and through diversity of leadership we are better governed and have more sustainable growth. What do you think about this issue?
Speaking about women entrepreneurship has become very trendy these days but one should try to understand that if we do not tackle this issue in very concrete terms, it will remain as a subject for academics. What we need most is to be concrete; to look at the reality of the facts. We always hear that we need more women entrepreneurs in our economy because they are more creative and certainly represent an added-value for our companies, this is clear, but the real question is “what are the concrete actions that need to be deployed?”
Apart from all the actions that we are carrying out concerning gender equality and the equal representation of women and men at the top and so on, when we specifically address the issue of women entrepreneurship we face a basic problem: their lack of time. At the end of the day, a woman is confronted with her motherhood role and finds it difficult to combine good quality work with family, to be fully committed to business activities and caring responsibilities altogether.
Do you also think that this all issue has to do with courage or lack of confidence from women side? Do they feel intimidated?
I don’t think so. Maybe 20 or 25 years ago I would have said yes but now I don’t think there is a problem of being or not being brave. Today, as far as the education is concerned, women have a lot of possibilities to reach high-level of education and get important skills for their future. The main issue here is that when women come to a certain age, they have to face a key dilemma “will I invest in my family or will I invest in business?” Although this question can be considered as part of the life process, there are some instruments and representing ways to facilitate a fair balance between the two dimensions, without pushing women to renounce to one or to the other. This kind of questions can be – in my opinion – quite dramatic in a woman’s life. I believe, it is sad to see a woman giving up her professional career as much as to see her renouncing to the objective of having a family because of her work. Sooner or later, when her son or daughter grows up, the regret of not having achieved a career objective will come out. This is a critical matter and the online context can be further developed in order to allow women to deploy their creativity, their fantasy and their energy in another way.
Anyway, the Action Plan dedicates section 4.2.1. to women. It acknowledges that Europe has a lot of women who are qualified and high-skilled entrepreneurs and it explores online trade as a possible way to support business across borders and women in reconciling business and family.
.. and can allow them to work from home?
Yes, from home or at least partially from home, so that they do not need to stay out of their house for the whole day but only for a few hours. The future of online work is of course important but it has to be concrete and regulated. One might even say that an enterprise does not need a consultancy because there is plenty of information online… Sure, there is lot of information on the web but the quantity of information displayed needs someone who is specifically skilled to handle such a “jungle”! We need people who can master the online market and this is the reason why the trade market will not be an immediate market because it has to be properly developed. It needs to be translated into concrete business models.
During the conferences that we attended we saw that European citizens feel the EU– above all the Commission – far and unreachable. Is it a reality? This feeling has intensified during this period of economic crisis and insecurity. What do you think about it? How can the EU reach out to the citizens, professionals and the civil society in general?
There are many initiatives the European Commission is working on and lots of activities that have been launched across Europe to be close to our citizens in this difficult period. I would say that the European Commission is not particularly good at communicating these activities; very often they remain unknown to the local territories. I will take the EU funding as an example, in most cases it is distributed by the region or by the local authorities; nevertheless very often companies or organizations think that this money comes from the region itself whereas this last one is just an intermediary.
The 2020 Entrepreneurship Action Plan is another very concrete initiative in favor of companies; some of the ideas included will be implemented by the Commission while some other will need the contribution of Member States and local authorities. But of course the ones that are put forward by the Commission have a certain added-value.
We would like to ask you some more personal questions and you to know that EPN dedicates a section of its website to “inspiring professionals of the month” in which we wish to take you as an example. We know that you are a lawyer, so could you tell us how have you reached your current position? And what sort of challenges have you faced on the way?
To be honest, it was quite by chance. I proposed my CV to my former head of cabinet at the time and he liked my profile. The fact that he already knew me for quite some time also helped because Mr Tajani – being a Commissioner – needed someone to fully trust. It looks very simple but sometimes this is how it works! Certainly, studying is very important, developing skills is absolutely necessary but one should never underestimate the capacity of having networking skills. One should prepare in the best way and show the rest of the world how good they are because if you are shy, nobody will realise it.
Did you do a traineeship here in Brussels?
Yes, in 2001 at DG Internal Market. It was a really good experience, so good that after it I decided to stay in Brussels. The period of a traineeship can be quite short but if it is really interesting, it can open new doors for your career.
From your experience, being an Italian living in Belgium, do you feel like a European Citizen?
Yes for sure. I always feel Italian and I will always be Italian but this doesn’t mean I don’t feel European. The European and national dimensions go well together … our origin, our nationality enrich our experience, don’t make it poorer!