The EESC has called for the creation of special ombudsmen to help SMEs in Europe cope with their financial and funding issues. The Committee also stresses that, for SMEs to take up AI, there needs to be the political will to support them in the process.

At its January plenary, the EESC adopted two reports dealing with some of the most pressing issues impacting SMEs.

In Next Generation SME Strategy – Enhancing Effective and Swift Delivery, the EESC stresses that access to credit, liquidity, cashflow and payments are all critical stumbling blocks for SMEs, especially with COVID - hence the proposal to create a network of financial and funding ombudsmen to:

•    promote SMEs' access to funds;
•    study whether and how intermediary banks use financial instruments to reach the SMEs most in need of financial resources;
•    mediate disputes between SMEs and financing and funding providers.

The EESC also suggests:

•    creating an SME liquidity task force to monitor the European Commission's new measures to improve the short-term liquidity of micro-SMEs;

•    introducing a one-sheet application form to ease the burden for companies with limited human resources and legal teams which wish to apply for EU funds.

•    providing more opportunities for SMEs to bid for and win public contracts in the Member States.

In Developing artificial intelligence in European micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), the EESC stresses that strong political will is needed to overcome the barriers which stand in the way of MSMEs embracing AI.

Political will is needed to build trust, using social partners, chambers of commerce, professional associations and the like to dispel MSMEs' concerns on the ground.

The EESC suggests a set of measures that also require sustained political will - first and foremost:

•    using education and vocational training to promote a general mastery of AI;
•    ensuring that MSMEs have easy access to both public and private funding for AI;
•    guaranteeing infrastructure and connections everywhere;
•    promoting awareness of cybersecurity issues;
•    disseminating best practices and success stories as widely as possible. (dm)