Small and medium-sized enterprises represent 99% of all companies in the EU. They are the biggest sector of the EU economy, with 23 million enterprises employing around 75 million people. Responsible for the creation of one in every two new jobs, SMEs also produce considerably more than half of the EU's GDP.
In November 2005, the Commission committed itself to improving the business environment for these companies with a new SME policy, entitled "think small first" (EurActiv 10/11/05) and aimed at:
- Promoting entrepreneurship and skills through education and training;
- improving the access of SMEs to markets, especially in the area of public procurement;
- simplifying legislation for SMEs, with longer transition periods, reduced fees, simpler reporting and in some cases, exemptions from EU rules, and;
- improving the growth potential of SMEs, with support for participation in the 7th Research Framework Programme and help in the field of intellectual property rights.
The Commission is currently finalising a Communication on the Small Business Act (SBA), proposing a series of actions to make starting up a business in the EU easier. SMEs have heavily criticised the initiative for not addressing the key question of whether or not it should be binding for the 27 member states.