Daniel Calleja Crespo is the Commission's deputy director general responsible for SMEs in addition to the new special envoy for SMEs. Since his appointment last February, a new network of national SMEs across the member states has also been put in place. He spoke to EurActiv’s Jeremy Fleming.
What impact do you believe the creation of the new network of SME national envoys will have?
I am very pleased that all 27 member states responded very quickly to Vice-President Tajani's invitation to nominate a national SME Envoy.
What will be the advantages? First of all, the creation of the new EU network of SME envoys will allow us to monitor very closely the implementation of the commitments made under the Small Business Act and its subsequent review.
Second, a national SME envoy will raise the profile of the problems faced by SMEs and allow for a more effective response. He or she will be an important actor and defender of SME interests in the policy-making at national level.
Third, the network of SME envoys is an excellent opportunity for the exchange of good practice.
However, most importantly, the purpose of the network is to deliver concrete benefits for SMEs. Already in the first meeting of the EU Network of SME Envoys on 14 September, we agreed on the following deliverables:
- It should be possible in all member states to start a business in three days at a cost of no more than €100.
- Member states and the Commission will improve SMEs' access to finance through measures increasing the availability and the use of loan guarantees for SMEs, together with micro-credit for start-ups and micro companies.
- Any new legislation, both at European and national level, will take due account of the potential implications for SMEs by means of an 'SME test'.
What kinds of new mechanisms or tools are under consideration within the Commission for enabling easier and more effective access to funding for SMEs?
The European Commission is committed to improving the supply of finance for SMEs since this is essential for the growth and prosperity of Europe. Therefore the Commission is going to propose an action plan to improve access to finance for SMEs before the end of the year.
In that context, we are going to propose a legislative regime that allows venture capital funds to operate across borders easily.
Are there any longer-term plans currently in the pipeline?
For the years 2014-2020, we are currently preparing the proposals for a new Business Competitiveness and SME programme. In that context, we are considering an Equity Facility for Growth and a Loan Guarantee Facility.
The Equity Facility for Growth would support funds that provide venture capital and mezzanine finance, and invest in growth-oriented enterprises, in particular in their expansion stage.
This support would be in the form of investments by the European Investment Fund or by a fund-of-funds, jointly established by the EIF and private investors or financial institutions. The focus of the funds invested directly would be on growth-oriented enterprises not based primarily on innovation or research.
The Loan Guarantee Facility would provide guarantee schemes and also include a window for supporting the securitisation of SME debt finance portfolios.
Similarly, in the context of the next programme for Research and Innovation, called "Horizon 2020", we are considering both loan guarantee instruments and equity instruments.
Does the Commission want to engineer market development in certain designated sectors reflecting its flagship initiatives such as healthy ageing? If so does that mean access to funding will be easier within these sectors, and what are they?
Improving access to finance for SMEs is a priority in the current situation. The financial instruments for SMEs are available for any businesses with a growth perspective and they are not limited to certain sectors.
On the other hand, it is true that with regard to research and innovation programmes, the Commission intends to put specific priorities on tackling the grand societal challenges. For SMEs engaged in research or innovation addressing such societal challenges, such programmes will certainly provide funding opportunities.
What input do you believe you will have in relation to the debate that is to be launched next year into the definition of SMEs by DG Enterprise, and what benefits do you believe that such a debate will bring?
I believe that debates about definitions are much less relevant for businesses than policy measures. Nevertheless, we need to make sure that the statistical definition of SMEs established in 2003 still reflects economic realities across the 27 member states. I will work closely with national SME Envoys and other stakeholders on this issue.
Are there any foreign models of intervention in SME policy that you think Europe could benefit from following more closely?
The Small Business Innovation Research Scheme is a US scheme developed since the 1980s obliging Federal Agencies to set aside a small percentage of their research budget to procure research from SMEs.
The scheme has proven to be extremely efficient in encouraging entrepreneurship and bringing innovative ideas from laboratories to the market. We are looking carefully at this scheme and it is an example of how you can get inspiration and find good practices in other countries.