Commission recognises SMEs as 'driving force' of EU economy

Written by Daniel Calleja Crespo on 25 September 2014 in Feature

The small business act is an ‘efficient policy tool’ which promotes a ‘better business environment’ for SMEs, says Daniel Calleja Crespo

How to ensure “growth through enterprise” and how to help small businesses to “exploit the opportunities ahead” are vital questions, and they deserve a major debate. The 2014 SME assembly, co-hosted by the European commission and the Italian presidency in Naples, will try to answer these questions. And it will be an exceptional event. A few weeks after the launch of the public consultation on how we can develop the small business act (SBA), the key commission policy instrument to promote SMEs and entrepreneurship and make the EU a better place for SMEs, we will discuss with stakeholders in SME policy, our priorities for 2015-2020.

It may sound self-evident that today SMEs are the driving force of European economic growth and job creation, but I am proud that the commission has recognised its role in the economy and put support for SMEs high on its agenda. The SBA, which was adopted in 2008, just as the financial crisis began to engulf the global economy has helped Europe’s small businesses receive the support they needed to withstand the turmoil. We must spare no effort to help small businesses. The SBA has proven to be an efficient policy tool to promote a better business environment for SMEs: member states have taken around 2400 measures to improve the framework conditions and the operating environment of SMEs in the past three years. The update of the SBA in 2011 shifted the focus to actions most likely to help SMEs cope with the economic crisis: facilitating access to finance, cutting red tape, promoting access to markets and stimulating entrepreneurship. This spring, European level business organisations and national government SME representatives (envoys) already agreed that we should add training of entrepreneurs and staff to these four “pillars” of the SBA, which could help to close the skills gap felt in many of Europe’s economies.

“Stronger European policy to support small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs will be needed in the coming years” 

However, the SBA has not yet been fully implemented by all member states. It needs to be updated and geared towardscreating more opportunities for the growth of European SMEs. This is why a stronger European policy to support small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs will be needed in the coming years. The public consultation launched on 8 September seeks further input from all interested parties, including entrepreneurs and business organisations, to help the European commission ensure that the SBA is fit to meet future challenges. During the SME assembly in Naples, we would like to discuss with our stakeholders how to move into top gear on our SME policy.

While building on what has been achieved, the new SBA should touch upon all key aspects of the SME-friendly business environment: from the substantial reduction of administrative burden, enhanced access to finance and access to markets – both within the single market and outside the EU borders – or efforts to promote entrepreneurship and an entrepreneurial culture, as set out in our entrepreneurship 2020 action plan. Just to give you a flavour of what is coming: it could be possible to start up a company at a maximum cost of €100 which would then be binding in all member states within three days. Or, under the ‘access to finance’ heading we would like to strengthen the venture capital market in Europe, develop alternative sources of finance and spread mezzanine financing; facilitating the revival of European securitisation markets through legislation would be another challenge. Our ambition would also be to provide SMEs with tailored advice on how to improve their resource efficiency and to significantly upgrade the Enterprise Europe network, with a yearly target of 500,000 SMEs supported by Horizon 2020. Access to external markets is another priority: SMEs exploring external markets are more competitive, more innovative and more skill intensive. We therefore propose to develop an integrated commission strategy on SMEs internationalisation to substantially increase the number of SMEs exporting to countries outside the EU.

"It is crucial to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit across Europe, in order to create an environment where entrepreneurs and their businesses can flourish and grow"

Across all these actions, it is crucial to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit across Europe, in order to create an environment where entrepreneurs and their businesses can flourish and grow. In Naples, the commission will get direct feedback from SME organisations and national policymakers, and we will test our proposals against their experience and the reality of doing business. I look forward to this debate and very much hope that it will help shape a more effective EU SME policy for the future.

About the author

Daniel Calleja Crespo is director general of the European commission’s DG enterprise

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