FUTURE OF EUROPE

Spain 2019 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to John de Zulueta, Director of Círculo de Empresarios, on improving policy, tackling unemployment, and priorities for the coming year.

In May 2019, Círculo de Empresarios asked to reinforce Spain's leading role in the EU to support the development of employment, education, and training policies for technological innovation, and others. In your opinion, what should be the strategy for achieving this?

Spain is currently facing a great opportunity to become one of the three major forces of the EU with the expected departure of the UK and the rise of Italy's anti-European movement. Digital transformation must be understood as a much broader concept than merely technological change. It is a way of doing business that involves both technology and internal processes as well as the relationship with customers, employees, suppliers, and regulators. For some companies, digitalization may be the main objective because their survival depends on it; however, for others, it provides new opportunities to consider, a way to reach more customers, create new products, and so on. In any case, it seems clear that digitalization is not an option but a necessity.

One of Círculo de Empresarios' projects is that of SMEs, which generate 62.2% of added value and constitute 72.4% of employment in Spain. What are the main objectives of this project, and how will it be carried out?

One of the great problems of the Spanish economy is the small size of its companies. The majority are small companies or microenterprises that are difficult to finance, internationalize, and invest in terms of research, development, and innovation. In addition, the retention of talent and the growth of employment is also a challenge. In this sense, Círculo has spent years demanding that the public administration eliminate the fiscal, labor, and bureaucratic barriers that hinder the growth of companies. It also encourages them to lose the fear of growing in terms of contribution and generation of value and employment. Círculo has participated in Cre100do since its inception. This is an initiative shared with the Bankinter Innovation Foundation and ICEX to help medium-sized companies grow bigger. After five years of activity, Cre100do, which has now become a foundation, has been incorporated into 100 companies.

One of the most urgent problems facing Spain today is the growth of unemployment. What measures does the Círculo de Empresarios recommend to the government in order to reduce this rate?

Spain should set an unemployment target of 5% within a reasonable period of time. Countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK are below that figure. The rate of 14% for Spain, as predicted by the IMF for 2019 and 2020, is not acceptable. Airef has revealed that we spend EUR6.5 billion on training the unemployed, and this does not seem to produce meaningful results. Fighting the underground economy could help us to significantly lower the percentage of unemployed people. However, above all, we must guide education toward quality employment. We must bring training closer to the demands of reality and the needs of companies. We have to encourage formulas such as Dual Vocational Training, through which apprentices combine theoretical training with practice. We must also facilitate the adaptation of young people to the new digital environment that is increasingly robotized and focused on big data, IoT, AI, cybersecurity, blockchain technology, machine learning, and quantum computing. It makes no sense that there are currently about 135,000 technological jobs that cannot be covered because we cannot find professionals with the right preparation for them.

What are the main objectives and priorities of the Círculo de Empresarios for next year?

We will continue to insist on the need to address the necessary structural reforms to improve the country's competitiveness and increase quality employment. These reforms are mainly in educational, fiscal, and labor. We must improve productivity and competitiveness and guarantee sustainable, inclusive, and environmentally friendly growth. We must also promote the growth of companies, the fight against fraud and the underground economy, the improvement of institutional quality, and legal security. We also intend to insist on the importance of the European project. From the point of view of democracy, social cohesion, solidarity, and cultural diversity, Europe is one of the best places in the world where citizens can develop their life projects. For Spain, accession to the EU and the euro was an essential element of economic progress. Círculo wants to contribute to the debate for the revitalization of the European project and to reinforce the leading role of Spain within the EU. For all these reasons, we aim to give Círculo a greater international projection. To this end, we have started by remodeling the advisory board, incorporating different experts and prestigious figures from different countries.