The 16-page December draft, obtained by EurActiv, was supposed to be published last month, then this month, but now the target is late February, according to a person briefed on the plans.
The latest version, now closer to 10 pages, is being examined this week by other Commission departments for comments and possible changes.
"This does not mean there is a problem," said Charlotte Arwidi, spokeswoman for Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, in charge of enterprise and industry. "The inter-service consultation aims at collegiality," she explained, saying that "changing the scope of a proposal is part of the daily routine".
"What we aim for is to have a really ambitious SBA review."
EurActiv was unable to obtain a copy of the most recent draft, circulated on 20 January, but the December text of the Small Business Act (SBA) review acknowledged that results in EU member states have been "slow" and "uneven".
Much more funding for SME bank loans is one of the new proposals, according to a person who has seen the latest text.
Key for growth
The review of the Small Business Act is being closely followed because small businesses will play a key role in three flagship initiatives of the 'Europe 2020' long-term strategy - the "Innovation Union," "Industrial policy for the globalisation era" and the "Digital Agenda for Europe".
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – those with 250 or fewer employees – have been hammered by the recession and the credit crunch, and their recovery is equally pivotal for Europe.
These SMEs employ more than two-thirds of the labour force in Europe and are the prime growth engine for the economy.
The Small Business Act went into effect two years ago. It had 10 guiding principles, including improving access to finance, drawing up bankruptcy rules to give entrepreneurs a second chance and upgrading skills.
Results slow coming
But the results, so far, have been meagre, business advocates say.
The European Commission, for example, said recently it was "on track to exceed its target of cutting red tape by 25% by 2012". But, so far, only a few major proposals have been fully approved. The other initiatives to simplify rules and reduce paperwork are still being debated by EU member states and the European Parliament.
"There's a lot of talk and very little action," said Patrick Gibbels from the European Small Business Alliance. "A few good proposals have made it through, but it seems for every piece of legislation aiming to reduce administrative burdens for SMEs, two new ones are piled on top. They can't say they want to make it easier to run a business and then do the exact opposite."
Of course there have been some positive steps, especially the directive passed in October to crack down on late payers. That should improve the cash flow for many small businesses and reduce the estimated €25 billion companies spend yearly chasing down tardy payers.
While the December draft is expected to be revised dramatically, it does provide some insights into the Commission's priorities at the end of last year, when it was written. Among them:
- The Commission planned to set up an SBA Advisory Group composed of governmental representatives.
- An SME Performance Review would involve stakeholders in monitoring and assessing implementation of the SBA in member states.
- Ensure by 2012 that venture capital funds established in any member state can function and invest freely in the EU by adopting a new legislative regime.
- Present in 2011 a strategy to support SMEs in markets outside the European Union.
- In the first half of 2011, present a legislative proposal for a common consolidated corporate tax base.
- Implement a new energy efficiency plan presenting a substantial programme in resource efficiency.
But many of the other recommendations and proposals lacked punch and clarity, SME groups have said. EU countries for example "are invited to renew their commitment to fully implement the updated SBA". The document also states that the European Parliament and EU member states "have a key role in keeping SMEs high on the political agenda and ensuring a full support to its implementation".
But that's a role some advocates say EU policymakers have been neglecting.
Since November, small business organisations have been trying to get the needed 369 parliamentary signatures on a declaration calling for a reduction in paperwork and administration for SMEs. So far, they have about 150 and it looks unlikely that they'll meet their goal by the February deadline.
"All MEPs say SMEs are the backbone of the economy and it's of prime importance to reduce the paperwork burden, but when push comes to shove, they don't take action," Gibbels said. "So far it seems like this is a commitment they are not willing to make."