Introduction and Information



The term “Family Business” has been given a broad range of definitions and there are a number of understandings of the nature of this sector with an estimated 93 definitions across European Union Member States with varations depending on the relationship between family businesses themselves.  Family businesses in general have in the past made a large contribution to a surge in the European economy and play a significant role in economic growth and social development, in reducing unemployment, particularly among young people, and in investment in human capital.  The multi-generational character of family businesses reinforces the stability of the economy and family businesses usually play a vital role in regional development, in terms of employment, transmission of know-how and regional organisation.  Furthermore family-business-targeted policies encourage entrepreneurship and motivate European families to start their own family businesses.  According to the most recent collated information in 2014, 85 % of all European companies are family businesses and these account for 60 % of jobs in the private sector.
Family businesses are of various sizes, which expose them to different difficulties and problems. While most family businesses are SMEs, family businesses can be small, medium-sized or large, listed or unlisted.  Family businesses have been widely equated to SMEs, neglecting the fact that there are also very large multinational corporations in certain member states that are also family businesses.  In some EU Member States a few family businesses account for a large share of the total turnover of all businesses and thus make a significant contribution to job retention, including in times of crisis, to creation and growth and to the economic success of the country concerned.
Direct taxation and succession law are Member State competences, and some Member States have adopted limited measures to support family businesses and address their concerns owing to the fact that family businesses are perceived as exhibiting high integrity and values that guide their business operations, and henceforth introduce high standards of corporate social responsibility towards their employees and the environment, which also creates a favourable environment for work-life balance.
Family businesses usually guarantee that knowledge and skills will be passed on and in some cases play an important role in social links.  In agriculture, family farms are the most common business model and make a major contribution to the prevention of rural depopulation, and in many cases provide the only source of employment in the regions of Europe where development is lagging behind, particularly in less industrialised regions.
The Commission’s group of experts on family businesses completed its work more than seven years ago, and no new European initiative has been launched since then at EU level.  There is still a lack of research and data at a national and an European level to understand the special needs and structures of family businesses.
Crucially to date there was no legally binding, concrete, simple and harmonised European-wide definition of family businesses and equally a lack of policy decision-making which means that the needs of family businesses are not being met adequately by any member state.  Additionally the imbalance of roles in family businesses is an Achilles heels to their sustainability.  In the EU women earn, on average, 16 % less per hour than men and there is a dearth of women in high-level and leadership positions.  The labour practices and wage systems applied to men are not the same as those applied to women, making it more difficult for the latter to be financially independent, participate fully in the job market and achieve a work-life balance.  In family businesses women often play an invisible role, or act as figureheads, and do not have their job or salary status appropriately recognised, which has serious repercussions in terms of social security contributions, pensions and welfare entitlements and also in terms of recognition of their skills.
The European Commission believes that family businesses have a key role to play in Europe’s economic recovery and future sustainability.  In fact the European Commission in its report of 30th June 2015 on family businesses in Europe requested member states to provide tangible support for the continuity, succession transfer and good governance of family businesses.   The raison d’être being that family businesses cannot be dealt with in the same way as any other businesses, since there are certain challenges that are felt to a greater extent by such businesses such as the issue of governance and succession which remains one of the most challenging aspects of family businesses, together with fiscal hurdles, which leads to cash flow problems when such businesses are transferred from one generation to the other.
In Malta, family businesses have been the economic pillar and backbone of our society and have withstood economic downturns robustly.  Addressing their needs was primarily the foundation for such policy initiatives and the scope of establishing legislation to give due form to this sector.  At present, many family businesses in Malta do not succeed to transfer their family business beyond their second generation and this is for the most part due to liquidity difficulties and lack of developed governance during the lifetime of the family business.  A lack of succession planning, clear demarcation of roles and competencies and financial planning all add to the limited ability for these family businesses to successfully transfer to the next generation.
Primary research conducted through a nationwide statistical survey commissioned specifically for the purposes of this proposals shows that nearly half (49.5 per cent) of family run businesses employed two family members; another 34.5 per cent employed three or four family members while the remaining 16.0 per cent employed more than five.  In addition, 41.9 per cent of such enterprises had at least one family member who helped out seasonally or periodically.
 The majority (69.4 per cent) of family run businesses started to operate by the current family members, while another 16.9 per cent were inherited.  A further 7.3 per cent bought the business from other family members.
 From a total of 1,557 enterprises who participated in the nationwide survey, in the absence of a formal definition, 769 family run businesses were identified.  Once a formal definition is now established it is estimated that around 4,000 are identifiable. From this category 287 enterprises or 37.3 per cent had a future plan to continue the business.  Of these, 82.9 per cent would opt to pass it on to the next generation while 8.0 per cent would choose to sell it to other persons (non-family members).  These enterprises indicated that taxation issues and financial problems were the major challenges and risks to transfer the business to someone else followed by challenges regarding family conflict, retirement uncertainty and inheritance.
 The vast majority (97.5 per cent) of family run businesses indicated that family members took major decisions within the company, with the highest percentage being recorded for enterprises employing 50 persons or more.   Just over 35.0 per cent of family run businesses had a future plan from the current family members involved for the continuity of the company. For family run businesses employing 50 persons or more, this percentage was equal to 45.2 per cent.
The back drop against which this legislation was developed is with the knowledge that in Malta, around 98% of all business are micro, small and medium sized enterprise with the vast majority of them being family run businesses.  More significantly 95% of these SMES are classified as micro enterprises having less than 10 employees.  These SMEs provide about 80% of all jobs in the business economy and create 71% of the overall value added: for both variables, this is about 14 percentage points more than the EU average.
To date there was no legislation on a European or International level that specifically seek to assist and encourage the regulation of family businesses, their governance and the transfer of the family business from one generation to the next.  Henceforth the scope of the legislation is to encourage and assist family businesses to enhance their internal organisation and structure with the aim of effectively operating the business and working towards an effective succession of the family business. 
This law is being developed in line with the European Commission recommendations to create a transfer-friendly regulation framework:
  •  Creation of a transfer-friendly regulation framework: To help the transfer of businesses means having the right regulatory framework. The European Commission dealt with this area in its recommendation on the transfer of small and medium-sized enterprises.  It invited the Member States to improve their legal and fiscal environment for business transfers. Some progress has already been made in implementing the recommendation, but there is still work to be done.
and the Governments pledge to introduce the Family Business Act which will offer benefits to registered family businesses seeking to transfer their business and ensure next generation continuity.
Miżura 120  
  •  Se jiġi indirizzat l-Att tan-Negozju tal-Familja. Il-liġi se tagħti definizzjoni ċara ta’ x’inhu negozju tal-familja u min huma l-membri tal-familja u se tinċentiva t-trasferiment tan-negozju bejn membri tal-istess familja. Kull negozju tal-familja rreġistrat taħt dan il-Att se jkun eliġibbli sabiex japplika għal numru ta' benefiċċji.



The Ministry for the Economy, Investment and Small Business and the National Statistics Office under the Ministry for Finance in 2016 were the beneficiaries of a grant awarded under the COSME programme.  COSME is an EU 2014-2020 programme running for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises.  It supports SMEs in better access to finance; access to markets; supporting entrepreneurs; and more favourable conditions for business creation and growth.
The grant was awarded for the implementation of a Project Proposal, entitled “Identifying and Establishing Core Variables and Statistics to Support the First Legislation on Family Business in Malta”, submitted by both beneficiaries under the call “Statistics for Family Businesses”. The application was very favourably evaluated achieving a final acceptance result of 97% on 100% as to its suitability to be awarded the funding. The main objective of the project was to collate statistics onfamily businesses of the legal definition of family business as set out in the Family Business Act which is a first for Malta and also within the European Union. This data will aid the legislator, policy maker, key stakeholders and family businesses to garner credible, real, comparable and systematic information and indicators of the family businesses in the Maltese economy. On the basis of this data, it will further offer usable and practical information for decision making in the development of, and assistance to, this key economic sector. 
This legislation is intended to provide a legal as well as an administrative environment conducive to the development of this sector.   It seeks to do this by establishing the parameters which would entitle a business to be considered as a Family Business, by proposing the establishment of a regulatory framework including the role of a regulator whose function would include ensuring the continued development of the sector by nurturing, encouraging and assisting family businesses.  The intention of the legislation is to encourage family members within the same family to transfer their family business during the life time of the family members (inter vivos) as opposed to waiting for a family member, and most often and crucially – the founder, to pass away and affect a transfer causa mortis.  In transferring a family business inter vivos the benefits and likely success of the continuity of the family business far outweigh a transfer causa mortis especially as most transfers’ causa mortis arise as a result of an unexpected and unforeseen passing away of a family member.  A transfer inter vivos will not only be more transparent, smooth and successful, but the same family business will maintain the confidence of its employees, business partners, investors, customers, shareholders and all financial and credit relationships related to the family business.  Furthermore the legislation crucially identifies benefits and assistance which the family businesses require to facilitate a successful transfer.
The main provisions of the Act are the following:  
• The establishment of a legal form for a Family Business. The term family business is defined and identifies the business models by which family businesses trade and operate.  Whilst the Act is developed keeping in mind the scenario in the Maltese economy it allows for foreign family business to benefit from the legislation through establishing a part or all of their family business in Malta.  As Malta is the first jurisdiction legislating specifically for family business, this Act spearheads Malta’s status as a core financial centre for European Union, international and commonwealth businesses and acts as a further compliment to foreign direct investment.
• Family businesses vary from ‘normal’ businesses since they are motivated by the unity and continuity of the family ties.  In this respect it was vital to clearly identify what family members will be recognised within a family business for the purposes of registering as a family business as well as to provide adequate safeguards to their employment.
The definition of family member is intended to identify those relatives in accordance to Maltese Law who are considered within the parameters of the Act.  It takes into account the current indications of family members already established through existing legislation such as the Income Tax Act, Chapter 123 of the Laws of Malta, the development and emergence of fresh legislation regulating partners and spouses as well as the intentions of the legislation which is to encourage succession down to the next generations.
• The definition of family business throughout article 3 of the legislation identifies direct ownership of those family businesses that are 1) listed or trading on a multilateral trading facility, 2) limited liability companies, 3) registered partnerships, 4) businesses set up as a trust, 5) unregistered partnerships, and 6) those that the Minister may prescribe.  Indirect ownership is identified as those family businesses set up as 1) holding companies, 2) those held in a trust or 3) a private foundation; 
An owner is identified as being mean the ultimate beneficial, physical individual who, directly or indirectly, has a shareholding or other interest in the family business.  A family business, to be understood as a family business, must be made of up two owners who are family members within the same family unit.  The definition takes into account the requirements not only of ownership held by family members but the importance of their involvement in the governance and decision making rights of the family business.
The legislation aims towards the consolidation of ownership as opposed to its fragmentation.  Keeping this in mind, the legislation takes into consideration that successful family businesses are not necessarily entirely 100% family owned and that furthermore part of its continuity and success depends on allowing participation and ownership by non family members.  In this respect, the legislation provides that where forms of ownership are held directly or indirectly by individuals who are not family members or by employees they shall be disregarded if their aggregate issued value does not exceed five per cent or ten percent respectively of the said ownership as prescribed in the provisos of articles 3(2), (3), (4), (5) and (7) of the legislation.
The legislation furthermore takes into account that business assets may be held on lease and not through ownership and for these purposes and to provide for this state of fact, the legislation provides that where any business assets are held on lease, the family members shall be the majority of the lessees in the lease agreement.  In this way, the net encompassing family businesses is further extended and takes into account the real scenario for those family businesses lease their premises.
• The success of family businesses highly depends on family members being fully and properly integrated in the ownership and governance of the family business.    Therefore achieving a balance is fundamental to ensuring continuity and success.  For these purposes the success of a family business requires not only the presence but the involvement of the same family members operating it and who will eventually inherit it.  The legislation seeks to achieve this balance by establishing the parameters for the duration of the family business both in registering as a family business and maintaining the label, the level of direct and indirect ownership as well as the quality of ownership, management and decision making rights.
• Governance, structured management and good administration are the Achilles heels of family business owing to the fact that family businesses invest much of their personal qualities in growing and establishing the business.  In failing to plan, a business plans to fail.  The legislation tackles this aspect by requiring family businesses to clearly determine the role of family members within the family business not only from an ownership perspective but also through decision making rights and formal involvement in the management of the business; 
• To further assure the continuity and transfer of the family businesses benefits have been developed to complete the scope of the legislation and assist family businesses.  Access to benefits is on the precondition that family business are fiscally sound thus further strengthening their internal governance and also allowing the State to collect its fiscal dues and increase revenue and transparency in the operations of these family businesses.
• A Regulator of Family Business is established with a complimentary function of being a leader and representative of the sector, as well as to administer a Register of Family Business to collate those businesses that have been allocated the Family Business label after meeting the established requisites.  The Regulator’s function goes further than that of a ‘licensor’ by striving to create a community bringing together family businesses and professionals to work together and develop opportunities to continually assist family businesses in their transfers and succession. 
• The Act contains other provisions establishing parameters for acceptance as Family Businesses as well as to guide the functioning of these businesses so as ensure transparency in their operations, fiscal accountability and to enhance the survival of the sector.
• Finally the Act includes enabling provisions to allow the Minister to further legislate on a number of aspects including the further development of benefits.
• Benefits are twofold: governance and fiscal. 
• The initial governance benefits which are supported through Malta Enterprise will range as follows subject to Malta Enterprise’s terms and conditions:
1) Loan guarantees of up to €500,000 per business for the purpose of acquiring the business or parts thereof ;
2) Micro Investment of a maximum tax credit of €70,000 over a three year period;
3) Legal, Notarial and Accountancy advisory services up to €2,500 over a five year period for the purposes of assistance in the succession or business transfer of a family business;
4) Education and training for owners and their employees of up to €1,000 annually per family business;
5) Arbitration of up to five sittings with a value of € 2,500 with the objective to establish the fair value of the business;
6) The positive consideration of lease renewals occupying government premises; When a registered family business is occupying industrial government premises or land on lease or emphyteusis respectively as prescribed under Chapter 325 the Business Promotion Act and subject to the business satisfying all the conditions of the tenancy agreement, the Regulator shall recommend to the Malta Enterprise Corporation and, or INDIS Malta Ltd to renew the tenancy, which renewal shall not be unreasonably withheld when the objectives of the renewal are to ensure the continuity of the family business between family members.
7) Investment Aid - The Incentive Guidelines for Investment Aid 2014 – 2020 launched by Malta Enterprise in 2014 specify that in the case of acquisition of the assets of an establishment only the costs of buying the assets from third parties unrelated to the buyer shall be taken into consideration. The transaction shall take place under market conditions. If aid has already been granted for the acquisition of assets prior to their purchase, the costs of those assets shall be deducted from the eligible costs related to the acquisition of an establishment.  The Incentive Guidelines shall allow that where a member of the family of the original owner, or an employee, takes over an enterprise, the condition that the assets be bought from third parties unrelated to the buyer shall be waived. The acquisition of shares does not constitute initial investment.   Following the launch of the Family Business Act, the eligibility for the latter provision will be linked to actual registration of the family business under the Act.
• The fiscal incentives are integrated in Chapter 364 the Duty on Documents Transfers Act.  The intention for their introduction is to allow for a more effective and smoother transfer or retention of the family business within the family.  This should work simultaneously with encouraging financial and fiscal good governance.  The fiscal incentives will afford varying fiscal rates to those family businesses transferring to other family members.  In essence duty on immoveable property shall be chargeable on the first five hundred thousand euro (€500,000) of the value of the property transferred at the advantageous rate of three euro and fifty cents per one hundred euro or part thereof and with respect to duty on shares, interests in a partnership, trust or foundation no account shall be taken of the first one hundred and fifty thousand euro (€150,000) or such other greater amount as may be prescribed of the value of the shares, or interests in a partnership, trust or foundation transferred in assessing the duty chargeable.
These incentives should be considered as the foundations to commence the operation of the legislation.  They are not intended to be exhaustive and final but will serve as the platform for family businesses to immediately benefit upon introduction of the legislation.  The Regulator will monitor their success or otherwise and propose and work towards developing further benefits for family businesses in the widest context possible.
It is intended and shall be comprised to form part of the role of the Regulator to continuously update, develop and introduce further governance and fiscal incentives.  Furthermore, it is intended that other incentives through other third party stakeholders should be developed and integrated within the operational aspect of the legislation.
For the year of 2017 there shall be an initial one time boost for family businesses. Those family businesses who transfer their business to their children will benefit from a reduction of tax being from 5% reduced to 1.5%.