Commission guide: European SMEs need a more 'level playing field' to succeed

Written by Julie Levy-Abegnoli on 18 February 2015 in Feature

European SMEs could help relaunch growth and employment in the EU, but they need help to compete internationally, argues Elżbieta Bieńkowska.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) account for 99 per cent of all European businesses and two thirds of private sector jobs. It's no wonder, then, that when European internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska is asked how important her role is, she replies, "in one word - very". Over the next five years, she will work with the rest of the college "to get Europe back on the path to growth so that we can start creating the jobs our citizens need".

She explains that this will be a team effort, as "the challenges facing the EU today do not correspond neatly to any simple division of portfolios - most of the subjects that we are dealing with are interlinked". And while she seems fairly confident, saying, "I have some powerful instruments at my disposal, most importantly the single internal market", she is aware that boosting job creation will not be easy, adding, "I have to ensure that what we plan here in Brussels becomes a reality throughout the EU."

Before accepting commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's invitation to join his team in Brussels, Bieńkowska was very politically active in her native Poland. She worked in the marshal’s office of the Silesia region as director of its regional development office, before becoming minister of regional development and later, deputy prime minister and minister of infrastructure and development.

"Before proposing new initiatives, I would like to see why the single market is not fully completed based on the analysis of the currently existing legislation, looking at where we can improve, and why some of the regulations adopted in the past do not work properly"

The Polish official aims to "create a deeper and fairer internal market for both goods and services. A recent study by parliament conservatively estimated that its completion would increase the EU’s GDP by €235bn per year in the long term".

However, she will not take any action without carefully examining the current situation first, saying, "before proposing new initiatives, I would like to see why the single market is not fully completed based on the analysis of the currently existing legislation, looking at where we can improve, and why some of the regulations adopted in the past do not work properly".

In addition, she will "propose a roadmap for smart and clean industry in 2015 - this plan will contain actions to help industry fully integrate the advanced technologies which are needed to remain competitive in the global economy".

Bieńkowska also pledges to "upgrade and modernise the small business act for Europe in order to generate a more business friendly environment to help SMEs grow". And last but not least, she hopes to help European businesses achieve international success by "helping create a global level playing field to support these companies."

The former deputy prime minister of Poland stresses that "access to markets outside the EU is an area of great importance for European industry and SMEs alike. This is a key challenge to create growth and jobs in Europe. Over 30 million jobs in Europe are export focused and it is estimated that this year 90 per cent of growth will come from outside the EU".

She adds that this issue "has been approached from different EU policy angles, but I think that they do not yet form a sufficiently cohesive level playing field. We need to build an EU economic diplomacy that targets strong economic outcomes using our foreign, industry, trade, investment, innovation, regional and development assistance policies".

This is something on which she "would like to start a strategic reflection, working with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and the other commissioners". Bieńkowska explains that one of the main problems is that "European SMEs are not sufficiently aware of EU actions supporting internationalisation and the opportunities they provide". Moreover, she points out that "EU economic diplomacy is necessary to secure access to critical inputs, in particular raw materials."

The Polish official hopes to count on MEPs' support, highlighting that "cooperation with parliament is extremely important. I would like to ensure that the quality of initiatives that I will be proposing to parliament will be high and the legislative process will be as short as possible."

And the commissioner fully grasps the importance of the task at hand, noting that "our future prosperity depends on industry, both manufacturing and services. We have seen years of relative decline and recent periods of absolute decline. It cannot be business as usual in the future. We need new ideas, translated into concrete actions. My job is to find those ideas and make sure those actions succeed."

Elżbieta Bieńkowska is European internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs commissioner


About the author

Julie Levy-Abegnoli is a journalist and editorial assistant for the Parliament Magazine

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