After decades in which they were somewhat sidelined, Europe's small and medium-sized enterprises have now taken centre stage in the EU policymaking process. Already in 2000, with the adoption of the European Charter for Small Enterprises, EU Member States committed themselves to improve the business environment for smaller businesses:
take care of the peculiarities of small enterprises in the elaboration of policies, measures and programmes;
stimulate and promote entrepreneurship;
improve SMEs' access to finance;
create an administrative, fiscal, social and economic environment favourable to smaller enterprises;
promote SMEs' access to the results of R&D and technology; value their innovation potential;
promote the broadest possible access to new information and communication technologies.
In the Charter, Member States also committed themselves to report every year on the progress made. In 2006, the reporting commitment was integrated in the annual reports foreseen by the Lisbon agenda. 2007 brought a significant step forward as the European Commission announced its intentions to adopt a "Small Business Act for Europe", which was published in June 2008 and adopted by Heads of State and Government in December the same year. When the Small Business Act was published the Commission was moving from a logic that sees SMEs as exception to a stronger, more solid theoretical approach that would quickly bear fruit if fully endorsed, also at Member State level. More than two years after the adoption of the SBA, however, progress has been quite patchy both on the principles and on the concrete actions linked to the text, which remains a non-binding communication.
Despite its shortcomings in form and in practice, the Small Business Act has had the merit of putting SME policy at the forefront of the debate and increasing its level. Some months ago, the European Commission has published a review of the Small Business Act, which stressed the importance of improving the governance of the SBA process.
The GRTU has last week met Jason Azzaopardi where the Small Business Act for Malta was discussed. Government has in this case taken up GRTU's suggestion to entrench the rights enacted by the Small Business Act into law, this following strong criticism that Government has to do something tangible and not limit itself to simple nice rhetoric.
The Small Business Act for Malta is a very important step and seems to be one that is being regarded as a best practice by the European Commission and is attracting much interest amongst other Member States. GRTU now looks forward to see the it practiced in real terms.