Green growth in SMEs given green light by parliament

Parliament has approved a proposal on green growth opportunities for SMEs but MEPs remain split over deregulation.
Philippe De Backer (ALDE, BE) is parliament's rapporteur on green growth opportunities for SMEs

The only way to sustain a growing population and economy with a limited amount of natural resources, is by making a change. That is exactly what I want to demonstrate in my report on green growth opportunities for SMEs. My aim was to identify the very promising opportunities that are out there for European companies, while at the same time laying out the problems SMEs encounter and establishing a framework for overcoming them.

Green growth has huge potential for European SMEs, but the right conditions must be in place if they are to benefit from it. I spoke to entrepreneurs, I listened to business leaders and I distilled many of their comments in this report. 

Most of the topics in the document are issues that consistently came back in these talks. 'How do I find adequate financing for my business?', 'How can I be informed about the latest developments in technology and business practices?', 'Who will help me set up a cluster with other SMEs?' 

If we manage to resolve these problems, I am convinced that we will create the framework in which our businesses will thrive in the green economy. 

EU companies are global leaders in sectors such as recycling and energy efficiency. We must enable them to keep investing, innovating and pushing technological progress. This is the only way to retain long-term leadership. 

My report does not only focus on what should be done, such as supporting knowledge transfer, ensuring better access to financing or fostering entrepreneurship and encouraging the spirit of enterprise. 

It features a chapter titled 'Deregulation as an engine for growth' to address regulatory issues, and I am pleased that many of my colleagues have supported this approach. 

I am convinced that we are too prescriptive, at all levels of government. We often forget to ask ourselves, 'What problems are we actually fixing?' We need to regulate where it is necessary to do so, in a way that is future-proof and does not block innovation or private initiatives.

I believe this is a first clear signal of support to European commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans and his better regulation agenda. Sometimes, doing less means doing a better job. 


Jeppe Kofod (DK) is parliament's S&D group shadow rapporteur on green growth opportunities for SMEs

 The report builds on the work done by the commission in its communication on a green action plan for SMEs. Or perhaps I should say - it was supposed to build on this work. Instead, the rapporteur has chosen to take the report in a different direction. 

Instead of opting for the concrete initiatives I had hoped for, the report focuses on various suggestions on improving access to finance for SMEs. This is certainly a worthy topic, but perhaps one better suited for a different report. As it stands, the file is adequate at best. 

Both the commission and the council have shown, time and time again, that it is up to parliament to provide the ambition and the foresight needed to ensure an ambitious and sustainable European future. 

With this file, I cannot in perfect honesty say that I believe parliament has lived up to this charge.

The text, as presented in plenary, includes no less than 16 paragraphs on financing and deregulation. I would like to reiterate that these are important topics worthy of their own reports, but they are not in any sense or form strictly linked to green growth, sustainability or climate change.

I fought for a much greater focus on knowledge-sharing and management, as well as concrete initiatives for supporting and expanding industrial symbioses. This file could have been the starting point for an important new and ambitious green action plan.

Instead, it reads more like a sales pitch from an investment banker.

Hans-Olaf Henkel (DE) is parliament's ECR group shadow rapporteur on green growth opportunities for SMEs

The report on green growth opportunities for SMEs has a substantial pro-business component, and this is its greatest strength. Undeniably, European SMEs should play a leading role in providing emerging economies with services and goods related to environmental challenges. 

The report rightfully points out the crucial role of research and development for SMEs. Having defended the Horizon 2020 budget, this pleases me.

European companies should strengthen their competitive advantage by focusing on innovation, otherwise they will not be able to compete with US companies, who are at the forefront of creative destruction in many industries related to energy and environmental sustainability.
It must be highlighted that the report has avoided falling into the trap of ideology, which is at odds with European industry's interests. We should be united by a concern for the environment, but unfortunately too often it is used as an excuse to introduce an anti-market line of thinking, which is detrimental to the interests of European industry and the welfare of European consumers.

Energy costs are high and this undermines the competiveness of European industry, but to a large extent this is the result of misguided EU policy. Unfortunately, the report fails to acknowledge that European SMEs suffer greatly because of the mismanagement of the eurozone crisis, and growth opportunities - like opportunities in other sectors - have been a victim of the crisis. 

The report could also put a strong emphasis on how to increase the productivity of European companies.

Reinhard Bütikofer (DE) is parliament's Greens/EFA group shadow rapporteur on green growth opportunities for SMEs

The Greens ended up voting against this report, because it hijacked the green growth rhetoric to push an old fashioned deregulation agenda. A majority of MEPs sustained language in the report that explicitly identified deregulation as an 'engine for growth'. 

Many progressive ideas, such as shifting the tax burden for forward-thinking green growth ideas and from labour to resource consumption failed to make it into the final version of the text.

The overly centralist idea of standardised EU procurement rules - which clearly undermine the principle of subsidiarity - was supported by the majority. Attempts to explicitly mention that the EU and its member states should refrain from using environmentally harmful market-distorting subsidies were unsuccessful.

As it stands after the plenary vote, the text sends out the message that we should refrain from legislation because it inflicts excessive burden on SMEs. To put it diplomatically, this is an extremely simplistic attitude.

I was surprised to see a majority of S&D MEPs voting in favour of the resolution.


Marco Zullo (IT) is parliament's EFDD group shadow rapporteur on green growth opportunities for SMEs

We cannot afford a non-green Europe. Raw materials, water and energy are the heaviest burden for SMEs within the EU. Together, they make up half of production costs for our companies. This hinders their competiveness, and this report could help fight this, by supporting a path towards innovative technologies with less impact.

The report calls on the commission and the member states to monitor the results achieved by SMEs that have accessed green innovation funding, in order to gauge its effectiveness. 

The principle of monitoring funding is particularly important to the 5-Star Movement, because only through constant monitoring can actions be corrected and the desired effects be achieved.

Otherwise, we run the risk of only having good intentions, without any tangible results. Today, 93 per cent of SMEs in the EU promote resource efficiency initiatives, but only 42 per cent manage real savings.

Another positive aspect is that the report urges the commission to extend the eco-design instrument so that it includes a resource efficiency dimension, as part of the circular economy package. 

This is crucial because it will address durability, reparability and recyclability of products, including standards for guaranteed minimum lifetime and disassembly. 

However, we do not support the idea that 'deregulation' could be 'an engine for growth'. Deregulating doesn't necessarily mean relieving the bureaucratic burden of SMEs. Boosting SMEs' green growth will only be possible by reducing bureaucracy.