The 2012/12/27 at 08:09
Valérie Demon, in Madrid
Spanish Chambers of Commerce are reaching the end of a difficult 2012 and are also expecting a great deal from 2013. These mixed feelings dominated the general assembly of the country’s Chambers of Commerce held at the end of November under the slogan “Chambers of Commerce, 125 years working for the future”. Over 1,700 businesses were in attendance as well of the Prince of Asturias, the Minister of the Economy, the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Justice, not forgetting various key company heads. The assembly comes at a time when the Chambers find themselves at a turning point of their history. Affected by the crisis and a financial model modified in December 2010, the Chambers of Commerce have had to make changes to adapt in the last two years. Since January 2012, compulsory membership fees for businesses have been abolished except for companies invoicing more than 10 million euros. And in 2013, no compulsory membership fees at all will be applicable. As a result, the CCIs have undergone restructuring, with staff numbers dropping from 3,500 to 1,500.
The Chambers of Commerce are thus impatient for a new bill to define their financing and their role. Pending this legal development, they have committed, through a Declaration, to serve businesses, mainly SMEs. The Secretary of State for Trade, Jaime García-Legaz, reassured, during the general assembly, that Chambers of Commerce, essential to the lives of Spanish businesses, will see a new law approved during the first quarter of 2013. They should expect to continue to remain private corporations under public law. But for the moment, no text has been approved by the Council of Ministers. The Minister of Industry heavily insisted, during the closing of the assembly, on one crucial idea: “Spain cannot afford the luxury of doing without Chambers of Commerce”.
The Secretary of State for Trade has advanced the four pillars of the new bill: internationalisation, support for the entrepreneur, improvement of the competitiveness of SMEs, mediation and arbitration. Without going into detail, Jaime García-Legaz explained that CCIs will contribute to boosting the quality of exports – a task already tackled by the Chambers. In the first nine months of the year, businesses exporting less than 50,000 euros progressed by 18.6 %. The proximity of Chambers with SMEs will enable them to promote business creation – an activity that is all the more necessary after the loss of 300,000 businesses in recent years. The Vice-President of the Council of Spanish CCIs, Antonio M. Méndez Pozo, also President of the Chamber of Burgos, recalled that “the great drama of Spain remains its 26 % unemployment rate”.
“Training and entrepreneurship are indispensable levers on which the CCIs are currently working,” he continued. Almost 80,000 businesses have been created via the CCIs’ system of Ventanillas Unicas (“small single windows”), allowing persons creating businesses to manage all their administrative procedures in the one spot. “And these companies have a high rate of survival,” added the President of the Chamber of Burgos. The CCIs are also impatient to discover the new bill to find out their role in the introduction of work-study training programmes, recently launched by the central government through a decree. “Since the birth of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, training has been part of our DNA. We hope that this future bill will allow us to participate in the setting up of work-study programmes,” explains a manager at one of the CCIs.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, has reminded of the importance of Chambers of Commerce in mediation and arbitration between businesses. “In this regard, CCIs contribute actively to energising activity and improving the competitiveness of the Spanish economy.” Indeed, Chambers were pioneers in spreading arbitration; “this system has guaranteed a solution in the space of a month for a cost of 160 euros”. In the new bill, the government will possibly extend the competences of CCIs in mediation and arbitration.