Growing evidence that clusters and networks have positive impact on regional economies

Transformation of more traditional SMEs through participation in research and innovation activities is crucial, argues Philippe Lamberts.

By Philippe Lamberts

08 Jan 2014

SMEs represent over 99 per cent of EU businesses. They therefore need to be at the centre of European economic and industrial policies that can support them in overcoming barriers and fully participating as actors in the green economy. For this to happen, entrepreneurial investment and businesses creation in green markets must be supported and encouraged, and the 'green capabilities' of SMEs need to be raised through the provision of advice and expertise.

As Greens, we believe that the EU and member states should do more to assist SMEs in the areas of green technology, resource-efficient manufacturing, renewable and energy efficiency, eco-design, recycling. However, the focus should not only be on innovative and green SMEs: attention should also be given to the transformation of more traditional SMEs through their participation in research and innovation activities, including non-technological innovation. The effect of the adoption of environmental standards and practices on labour productivity could raise it by 16 per cent.

"There has been growing evidence that clusters and networks have a positive impact on the development of regional economies, the integration of knowledge in the value-chains and across different sectors"

As shadow rapporteur on the Horizon 2020 programme for the Greens group, I have been fighting for ambitious ring-fencing of dedicated budgets for SME-friendly programmes including the funding of the Eurostars programme for research performing SMEs, and a new SME instrument for supporting innovative SMEs and start-ups. Overall, Horizon 2020 will aim at dedicating 20 per cent of the total combined budget for the specific objective 'Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies' and the priority 'societal challenges' for SMEs.

There has been growing evidence that clusters and networks have a positive impact on the development of regional economies, the integration of knowledge in the value-chains and across different sectors. By resorting to open innovation and by coordinating activities such as research and innovation, smaller firms can achieve collective economies of scale beyond the reach of individual firms. In the EU, 27 per cent of companies already cooperate with other companies, research institutes or universities.

SMEs in low-tech industries, for example, have proven to be very successful in using and integrating knowledge from external partners to create new products or services. As a result, it contributes to the resilience of these industries facing huge competitive pressure, notably from emerging countries. Therefore, we welcome further integration at European level, particularly through the Eurostars programme, which may act as a positive catalyst for industrial transformation, despite its lack of ambitious budget.

Finally, as SMEs are essential to achieve the green economy, we want to underline that it is essential that support and programmes remain accessible and administratively simple for all participants.

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