The EU must provide more support to small- and medium-sized enterprises in accessing foreign markets and taking advantages of new business opportunities offered by Europe's moves towards a low-carbon economy, EU competitiveness ministers have said.

The European Union needs "more robust" SME policies in order to create jobs and economic growth and to face up to globalisation and energy and environmental challenges, EU competitiveness ministers concluded at an informal meeting in Lisbon on 21-22 July 2007. 

Particular focus should be given to developing new methods of financing for start-ups and reducing the "disproportional regulatory and administrative burden" placed on small companies in comparison with larger ones, they said, citing a study showing that, on average, where a big company spends €1 per employee because of a regulatory duty, a small business might have to spend up to €10. 

Ministers also said that more action was needed to help SMEs engage in cross-border activities. So far, only 28% of small companies and 36% of medium-sized ones trade across borders, whether within the internal market or internationally. 

The Commission is due to present a review of its current SME policy and propose new actions by October. One option it is looking into is the creation of a single company statute for all private companies wishing to operate across borders. A public consultation was launched on this question on 20 July 2007. 

The Commission will also look at how it can help SMEs take advantage of new business opportunities in areas such as green-technology production and export. 

Ministers urged the Commission to come forward with an action plan "as soon as possible", saying: "The promotion of lead market initiatives for low-carbon and efficient products and services is an important way of speeding up transition towards a low carbon economy and to put Europe as a frontrunner in global markets."