Fabian Demicoli

Europe’s Small Business Act strengthens small businesses and drives growth

Europe's 2020 strategy and Europe's economy heavily rely on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) achieving their potential. In the EU, some 23 million SMEs employ 67% of the private sector workforce. The Small Business Act (SBA) is the EU policy framework aimed at strengthening SMEs so that they can grow and create employment. Between 2008 and 2010, the Commission and EU Member States implemented actions set out in the SBA to alleviate administrative burden, facilitate SMEs' access to finance and support their access to new markets. Although most initiatives foreseen by the SBA have been initiated, a review of implementation so far reveals that more must be done to help SMEs.


Successful SBA Initiatives since 2008

The Small Business Act is the first comprehensive SME policy framework for the EU and its Member States. Since its adoption in June 2008, considerable progress has been made through actions to strengthen SMEs in a number of areas:

100 000 SMEs have benefited from the financial instruments of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, creating more than 100 000 jobs.

Through the late payment directive public authorities are now required to pay their suppliers within 30 days, improving the cash flow of businesses.

In most EU Member States the time and cost of setting up a company has been considerably reduced, lowering the EU average for a private limited company from 12 days and €485 in 2007 to 7 days and €399 in 2010.

Streamlined online procedures and opportunities for joint bidding have made participation in public procurement easier for SMEs.

The new EU SME Centre in China helps SMEs accessing the Chinese markets.

Although all Member States have acknowledged the importance of a rapid implementation of the SBA, the approach taken and the results achieved vary considerably between Member States. The review underlines that Member States have to step up their efforts to promote entrepreneurship and SMEs to support entrepreneurship in today's difficult economic climate.

Giving fresh impetus to the SBA

The Commission is determined to continue to give priority to SMEs. To reflect the latest economic developments, align the SBA with the priorities of the Europe 2020 strategy and continuously improve the business environment for SMEs, the review proposes further action in a number of priority areas:

Improved access to finance to invest and grow

Access to loan guarantees for SMEs through strengthened loan guarantee schemes;

Action plan for improving SMEs' access to finance, including access to venture capital markets, as well as targeted measures aimed at making investors more aware of the opportunities offered by SMEs;

Allow all banks, independent of size, to easily implement EIB loans and EU instruments.

Smart regulation to enable SMEs to concentrate on core business

Improved EU legislation through an SME Test for the Commission's legislative proposals paying specific attention to the differences between micro, small and medium enterprises;

Development of "points of single contact" in Member States to facilitate administrative procedures;

Quantified targets for reduced "gold plating", the practice of national bodies to exceed the terms of EU directives when translating them into national law.

Making full use of the Single Market

Proposal for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base;

Measures to facilitate cross-border debt recovery;

Revision of the European standardisation system making standards more SME-friendly and easily accessible;

Guidance to SMEs making use of labelling of origin rules.

Helping SMEs face the challenges of globalisation and climate change

Proposals to support SMEs in markets outside the EU;

New strategy for globally competitive clusters and networks;

Specific action on regional knowledge transfer between environmental and energy experts within the Enterprise Europe Network.

The review also proposes strengthened governance for the implementation of the SBA, with business organisations at the frontline.

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