Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the EU economy. According to Commission estimates, the overall contribution of SMEs to EU-27 value added was more than 57% (EUR 3.4 trillion) in 2012. Although the role of SMEs in the EU economy is crucial and their well being should be a priority for European policymakers, they struggle with access to finance, especially in the countries severely hit by the crisis. The Greek experience can and should be taken as a case study and conclusions drawn on how to improve the system for the future.
In 2004 the European Union experienced its biggest enlargement so far, welcoming 10 new Member States. A decade later, members of the Employers' Group representing employers' organisations from these countries summarise the changes that have taken place thanks to accession to the EU.
Completion of the Single Market is one element necessary for the European venture to succeed. The EESC has a key role to play here, for the good of both consumers and business. To this end, the EESC set up a Single Market Observatory (SMO) in 1994, with the support of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. The SMO is made up of 33 members representing European civil society organisations. Its aim is to monitor how the Single Market operates in practice, identify where the problems are and help legislators remedy existing shortcomings.
The issue of integration has always been one of the European Economic and Social Committee's greatest concerns and it has devoted opinions on the subject and organising conferences and events.
In these stormy times, improving SME policy is high on our agenda. SMEs are important drivers of growth, jobs and social cohesion but because of the global crisis they face more and more financing constraints.
In 2008-2009, they suffered a double shock: a drastic drop in demand for the goods and services they provide, and, on top of that, a credit crunch. These events have had a serious effect on SMEs’ cash flows and liquidity. Many of them were forced into bankruptcy, thus contributing to record levels of unemployment in many European countries.
Today, and with this speech, I will try to explain who is interested in social business in Europe, what it is, why we need to develop it and how we can do so. Keep in mind these 3 main messages:
• social business can be a solution for economic growth AND social development;
• social business can become DNA for tomorrow's Europe;
• social business can help people to engage in building a sustainable Europe.