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Speaking at a session questioning whether Europe had a future in the global economy (19 May), Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani said: "We are changing the rules on access to finance, where we need to account more for the needs of SMEs. The London Stock Exchange is working with me within the Financial Future Forum on formulating solutions to access to funding for SMEs."
He told EurActiv that the deal to co-operate had been reached at a meeting between the CEO of the London Stock Exchange, Mr Xavier Roleta, and members of the Financial Future Forum.
Meanwhile, delegates were told that the first meeting of special "SME envoys" appointed from each member state would converge on Hungary next week to meet with industry.
Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Portugal and Slovenia have not yet indicated who their envoys will be, and have until next week to do so.
The announcement came from the Commission's own SME envoy, Daniel Calleja Crespo, speaking at an opening session of the summit.
Calleja Crespo said he was responsible for co-ordinating the group, which was being selected from amongst senior members of each country's administration and would consider policy affecting SMEs.
He later told EurActiv that Tajani would inaugurate the new network at the conference next week in Budapest – called 'Mobilising SMEs for the Future of Europe' – which has been co-organised with the Hungarian EU Presidency. The event will bring together more than 400 representatives of small business, business organisations and public administrations tasked with co-ordinating SME policy.
Also speaking at the summit session – badged 'Entrepreneurship and SMEs: from declaration to implementation' – BusinessEurope's SME committee president Hugh Morgan-Williams welcomed the announcement. But he warned: "It's important that the envoys are close to SMEs. It will not work if they are just policy people; they must be close to the business people on the ground."
Access to funds required
The new envoys will have pressing issues to remedy. The session heard that efforts to shorten the time and expense required to set up companies across member states are lagging, with the current average time being seven days. The Commission's stated target is three days and a cost of 100 euros.
Access to funds remains a particular problem for SMEs. Calleja Crespo said that there was an urgent need to encourage the distribution of micro credit. Morgan-Williams said that initiatives to guarantee debt capital for SMEs should be introduced, and would repay themselves by the knock-on effect they would have on growth in the markets.
Growth prospects slim
Meanwhile, session participants were polled on a variety of questions relating to SMEs.
More than two thirds (70%) believed that enabling venture capital to pass more freely across national borders – a current EU proposal – would help them to raise funds.
The same proportion of delegates, however, believed that SMEs they were familiar with would not take on more staff in the next six months.
The audience also agreed by the same ratio that the financial crisis had impacted on the ability of SMEs to consider 'green' or sustainable factors in their operations.