SMEs are the backbone of the twenty three million companies based in the EU, and Eurocommerce’s SME day (10 Oct 2012) was a chance for representatives from the European Parliament and Commission, as well as SME associations and entrepreneurs themselves, to come together and look at concrete steps needed to create an economic environment favourable to SME growth while encouraging entrepreneurship in people of all ages and backgrounds.
ALDE MEP Jürgen Creutzmann was the first to stress that better access to finance and markets for SMEs needed to be translated into real action. He proposed reducing the time and cost of obtaining a licence to set up a new business to three days and 100euros respectively by 2020; creating “one-stop-shops” for entrepreneurs in each member state to go to for business start ups; and channelling fifteen per cent of the EU’s budget towards SMEs. Mr Creutzmann also highlighted that around €300bn of EU programmes have not been accessed within the current budget and that it is essential that small businesses are made aware that they can participate in these.
With regards to smart regulation, the floor heard from Elizabeth Golberg of the Commission’s Secretariat General, who maintained that regulation is essential in order to protect and facilitate exploitation of European markets, while agreeing with Mr Creutzmann that SMEs can feel over burdened by heavy regulation, which can often lead to failure. To combat this, Ms Golberg highlighted the Commission’s commitment to simplifying the system, reducing general administration by twenty five per cent (which would subsequently save around €40bn), and canvassing SMEs to find out what are the most burdening pieces of legislation for them.
The panel also included several entrepreneurs and SME leaders who gave first hand testimonials of their experiences in setting up a business, as well as putting forward their own ideas for encouraging entrepreneurship. Mr Marco Lardera, a twenty-five year old property website founder from Italy, told of the problems facing young people in his country with regards to a lack of confidence from banks and the authorities. Mr Heinz Werner, founder of a child and teenage jeanswear company, spoke of the worry of many possible SME leaders of being suffocated by corporate social responsibility rules, and stressed a need for a bigger focus on education in order to train the very best possible candidates to enable continued SME start ups and growth.
This was echoed by a second panel focusing on “boosting the spirit of entrepreneurship”, which expressed a need for entrepreneurship to be taught in schools “from the very beginning”. The panellists agreed this would build self confidence, increase awareness, and teach young people how to be independent. A fear of the stigma of failure was identified as a big problem deterring potential entrepreneurs from setting up a business by Imelda Vital of direct-selling company AMWAY- to which Mr Christian Verschueren, Director General of EuroCommerce suggested that the EU should follow the example of the United States, where, according to Mr Verschueren, failure is often seen as a golden opportunity for more entrepreneurship!
By Daniel Callaghan, intern for Rebecca Taylor MEP