The Bulgarian, Romanian and Austrian presidencies of the Council of the EU should work with SME representative organisations on specific SME policies and programmes for 2014-2020
The European Economic and Social Committee has always been an active champion of European SMEs. Continuing its efforts to improve the situation for SMEs across Europe, the EESC adopted an exploratory opinion on Promoting SMEs in Europe with a specific focus on a horizontal legislative SME approach and respect of the SMA's "think small first" principle (Rapporteur: Milena Angelova, BG; Co-rapporteur: Panagiotis Gkofas, GR) at its Plenary session in January. The opinion had been requested by the Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU.
"SMEs should be provided with more support and be more actively promoted if they are to be in a better position," said the rapporteur, Milena Angelova, at the debate during the plenary session. "If we want to improve the situation for small and medium sized enterprises, the Small Business Act (SBA) and its principles should be made legally binding as soon as possible". The opinion points out that the European Commission and the Council should include implementation of the SBA as a permanent scrutiny exercise in the European Semester and Annual Growth Survey, in close cooperation with the representative SME organisations.
The EESC also calls for an inclusive, coherent and effective horizontal European SME policy which also takes into account the needs of all the different SME sub-groups, such as value-generating companies, micro, small, family and traditional companies as well as those operating in remote areas, the self-employed and crafts. The EESC considers it essential to have a definition for each and every one of them not as an answer to all SME problems, but as an instrument to provide better access to support measures.
"We really need to make an effort to make sure that SMEs can be a lever for our economy", commented the opinion's co-rapporteur, Panagiotis Gkofas. "There are programmes in Brussels, but they are very different from the reality and opinions expressed in the Member States. SMEs in the individual Member States are not always aware of the policies relevant to them – the people who should benefit from the programmes are often left out".
SMEs are currently facing more challenges than ever - harsh competition, shortage of skilled labour, new forms of work and of consumption, an increasingly complex and intense flow of information, limited resources for innovation and complicated access to finance. According to the EESC, the "think small first" principle, which implies that the policy maker gives full consideration to SMEs at an early policy development stage, should be applied as soon as possible in order to help SMEs in Europe cope with the challenges they are facing.
The EESC opinion stressed the crucial role of entrepreneurship in creating employment and growth – entrepreneurship should be better promoted, including by devising a special Pillar of Entrepreneurs’ Rights, which should cover all special forms of entrepreneurship and announce a Year of Entrepreneurs. The European Commission and the Member States should improve access to finance for entrepreneurs, the regulatory framework and entrepreneurial education.
Small and medium-sized enterprises represent 99% of all businesses in the EU. According to European Commission data, 85% of new jobs and two-thirds of total private sector employment in the EU were accounted for by SMEs in the past five years.
The EESC has already adopted a number of opinions on how support policies for SMEs should be framed, such as: Effectiveness of policies for SMEs (2017), the Review of the Small Business Act (2011), Access to finance, the COSME programme, SMEs and global opportunities (2012), as well as Smart Regulation (2013). In the second half of 2017, the EESC organised public hearings in two Member States (Bulgaria and Hungary) and is planning more in 2018 (namely in Italy, Sweden, Greece and Lithuania) in order to debate the effectiveness and efficiency of EU policies for SMEs and gather valuable input and feedback from local stakeholders. The hearings are part of the EESC's follow-up work to its opinion on Improving the effectiveness of EU policies for SMEs, adopted in July 2017.