More than 350 delegates from national SME organisations, EU institutions and Member States participated on 1st October to the second “SME Convention” organised by UEAPME with the support of the European Commission.
The aim was to discuss the proposals for the 2014-2020 programming period on cohesion policy, on the European Social Fund, on “Horizon 2020” and on the “COSME” programme.
The convention was opened by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research. It also featured high level speakers from the European Commission, the Parliament, the EESC, the EIF and the Cyprus, Irish and Lithuanian EU Presidencies.
At the event, President Gunilla Almgren put forward our requests on the 2014-2020 programmes.
On the “Horizon 2020” research and innovation programme, Ms Almgren stressed the importance of a dedicated budget of 15% of the budget for its “SME Instrument”. A single management body for the implementation of the “SME instrument “in all the different areas identified by Horizon 2020 is also needed. Moreover, the current European definition of SME must be kept when identifying possible beneficiaries, stressed Ms Almgren, warning against the attempts recently made to change or widen these criteria. Last but not least, the current thresholds to finance loan guarantees should be abolished.
When it comes to the “COSME” programme on SMEs’ competitiveness, it must be used to monitor the application of the Small Business Act principles in all policies and programmes, explained President Almgren. The programme should be built upon dialogue and partnership with SME organisations, bring about a revision of the Enterprise Europe Network and, as it is the case for “Horizon 2020”, the current limit to loan guarantees of up to EUR 150.000 must be deleted.
On the 2014-2020 cohesion policy, Ms Algmren stressed the importance of fully involving economic and social part-ners in the definition of the priorities, and called for “ring-fenced” budget quotas for SMEs’ competitiveness and for innovation-related activities to be kept in place. The enhanced possibility to use structural funds to support the creation of financial instruments is a step forward that deserves further efforts and perhaps even an anticipated use before 2014, she added.
“When we organised our first SME Convention in 2009, Europe was in the very middle of the economic crisis. It was a moment of urgency, and SMEs were facing a sharp decline in their confidence levels. Today, our confidence levels are slightly higher, but the sense of urgency remains”, said President Almgren. “This is due mainly to two factors: first of all, the economic situation is still far from being rosy, with Europe on the brink of a new recession. Secondly, these weeks are crucial for the future of research and innovation, cohesion policy and SMEs’ competiveness in the EU. The next programmes will run until the end of this decade, so we must get them right as of now.”
At our convention, Secretary General Andrea Benassi launched a “to do list” of key measures for the EU and Member States to support SMEs. On the next day, Mr Benassi had a chance to reinstate our points a press conference with Antonio Tajani, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for industry and entrepreneurship, and Jürgen Creutzmann MEP, rapporteur at the European Parliament for the “COSME” programme.
At EU level, the first item on the list is the creation of an “SME Economic Dialogue”, a platform for exchange at the highest level on all SME-related policies and dossiers on the table. This body should meet regularly in order to ensure consistency between its own outcomes and those of the Competitiveness Council and of the European Parliament’s procedures. “This group would guarantee the application of the ‘Think Small First’ principle from the outset to all policy initiatives taken at EU level and concerning SMEs. It would also greatly facilitate the quest for better regulation in the EU”, explained Mr Benassi, who requested and earned the support of Vice President Tajani on this point.
Our list also contains the specific requests put forward by President Almgren on the 2014-2020 programmes on cohesion policy, innovation and SMEs’ competitiveness.
At Member State level, governments must implement at home the policies they have agreed in “Brussels”, if necessary against the resistance of vested interests. Moreover, they must come up with tailored solutions for the specific situation and needs of their economies, of their labour markets and of their SMEs, stressed Mr Benassi. In particular:
“Our list of measures must be given absolute priority in the weeks and months ahead, as they have the potential to really make a difference to the daily business of SMEs. We urge policymakers at all levels to start acting as of today. This is really a ‘make or break’ moment to support the real economy and avoid a new, perilous downturn”, concluded Mr Benassi.