Newsletter from Europe Issue 1/2003
Bashir Khanbhai MEP
(Norfolk and Suffolk)




I was recently invited by the Ethiopian Government to lead a team of MEPs to visit their country and assess their management of the famine.

Ethiopia suffered tragically from the famine in 1984. A similar humanitarian crisis is now looming as the country faces a severe and widespread drought that continues to desertify the rift valley region on the eastern side of the highlands.

Ethiopia’s 11.3 million people (18 per cent of the population) are at risk from starvation unless around 1.4 million metric tons of food assistance is made urgently available. The cost of this food assistance for 2003 is US$300m – a mere $2.5 per needy person a month!

I talked to several villagers and asked if they could identify their single most important need. Each time they said: “Water”. When asked about their second most important need, they said: “Seed”. These villagers walk 7 miles each way to fetch water and the little they can carry is used exclusively for drinking, cooking and for their animals. There is no surplus for washing or sanitation. I did not have the courage to ask them if they cared for democracy, human rights or the environment.

Ethiopia’s appeal for food assistance is desperate and the EU must act without delay. However, food assistance on its own is not enough to help Ethiopia to be self-reliant. There is a need to assist in programmes for extending the rural infra-structure – only 4 per cent of the country is accessible by paved roads. We need to build shallow wells, bore holes, reservoirs and dams

for water conservation as rainfall is so erratic and unpredictable. The national health budget allocates $1.5 per person per annum – not enough to buy a treatment dose of most antibiotics! The HIV/AIDS pandemic spreads fastest in conditions of social instability, conflict, poverty and powerlessness.

Ethiopia’s cattle population of almost 28 million require veterinary medicines to prevent widespread disease and death. Education is inaccessible to children in rural areas and this seriously affects the country’s capacity to build a pool of skills that will help to achieve national self-reliance.

It is time for the EU to examine its policies on aid for each country. It must determine the best way to use funds and technical expertise to exploit natural resources, including human resources, to maximise benefit for the rural populations. Each percentage growth in agriculture can finance a 2% growth in industrial production. In this way there would be, over time, a shift from agriculture to agro-industry and other industries. Help to achieve food sufficiency and self-reliance must be the primary aims of all development assistance.

In direct response to my report, the Commission has allocated another €5m for emergency food aid operations in Ethiopia. This will secure 25,000 metric tons of food for the starving population.



I was invited by the Greek government and the European Commission to address a workshop in Athens on Small & Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs).

My family has run a small business for over a century where I worked for 30 years before entering politics. With this experience as an industrialist and businessman, it is not surprising that I am keen to promote and defend the interests of SMEs, both in my Eastern Region of the UK and in the European Parliament.

SMEs drive economic growth. They train people with poor skills; they identify local needs and respond by producing suitable products and they create employment, wealth and security for the local community.

The Lisbon European Council set the strategic goal of making the EU "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010". Whilst there has been some progress, we still have a very long way to go. 


The hindrances, difficulties and bottlenecks facing SMEs in the EU and the lag in growth rates with the USA can be explained by excessive red tape, high direct and indirect taxation, expensive and inadequate access to loans and grants, insufficient allowance for increasing workforce skills and the lack of sponsored apprenticeships.

In Europe, many “Papas and Mamas” in their 50s and 60s own and manage their businesses traditionally. They are reluctant to invest in new technology because they suspect that the investment will not offer sufficient advantage. They do not understand the scope and function of new technology in increasing productivity and expanding sales and they have a fear of security of supply, quality, payment and legal liability   

My European Parliament Report on “Impact of Information Communication Technology on SMEs” analyses the problems facing SMEs and offers a programme of action to stimulate them so that they can compete globally and help realise the EU dream to be the most dynamic and competitive economy in the world. 

·        Avoid excessive regulation of the e-Economy in Europe and apply the 'think small first' approach when formulating legislation.

·        Reduce the legislative and administrative burdens on businesses by simplify data collection, especially for tax collection.

·        Cut red tape, especially for self-employed.

·        Build on measures already implemented to tackle online security issues by reinforcing the dependability and reliability of networks used by enterprises. 

·        Establish easy access to legal advice and certainty in cross border trade to ensure a European e-Economy.

·        Encourage “benchmarking” to promote and establish best practice to integrate SMEs in the e-Economy.

·        Encourage Member states to offer low interest loans and tax incentives to support SMEs.

·        Establish close co-operation between businesses, the educational sector and government agencies in order to close the IT skills gap.

·        Encourage EU citizens, especially the unemployed and the elderly, to acquire IT skills for employment to minimise import of foreign labour.

·        Reduce the security threat to businesses to encourage SMEs to establish online business.

·        Establish a clear and predictable legal framework for operating in the e-Economy throughout the EU, including access to legal advice on the applicable laws and codes of conduct.

·        Offer technical support companies financial and tax incentives to establish a network of services.

I hope we will soon have every EU citizen wearing a watch that is a combination of a PC, mobile phone and a LCD screen that will enable us to communicate audio-visually, process data, buy, sell and pay by voice mail, watch any sport and listen to our favourite music. Technology can offer us this today - let us use it to enrich our lives by producing more with ease so that we have less stress and more time for leisure!



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 Promoted & Printed by Conservative MEPs in the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament, Brussels: Khanbhai, Sturdy, Beazley & Van Orden