EU lawmaker: Commission must reduce red tape for SMEs

Several initiatives under the Farm to Fork strategy could "lead to the creation of substantial red tape," conservative MEP Marlene Mortler said. [Shutterstock]

The European Commission and the member states need to reduce the administrative burden on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the food sector, according to conservative EU parliamentarian Marlene Mortler.

“We need measures such as streamlining registration processes to make permits, licenses or approvals more efficient,” Mortler, who is a member of the parliament’s agriculture committee, said during a recent EURACTIV event, adding that small food and drink producers should be able to get their products on the market “as quickly and easily as possible”.

Some of the key EU flagship policies, including the Farm-to-Fork Strategy, the Circular Economy Action Plan, or the Biodiversity and Soil Strategies will “impact the business as usual model for food and drink SMEs,” Petros Kokkalis, MEP for the Left group and member of the environment committee, said.

The different strategies and action plans form part of the EU’s efforts to make its economy, including food production, more environmentally and climate friendly within the framework of the European Green Deal.

Giacomo Mattinò, head of unit at the European Commission’s directorate general for the internal market, industry, and SMEs (DG GROW), said the Commission was already taking into account SMEs’ needs.

Farm to Fork opportunities and challenges

“We are paying particular attention to not place any additional burden on SMEs when it comes to the design and implementation of policies,” he said, adding that SMEs accounted for a large part of the “agrifood ecosystem”.

Of the approximately 22 million SMEs in the EU, almost 290,000 are food and drink manufacturers, according to industry data.

From the point of view of the European Parliament’s Kokkalis, the EU’s green and digital transition does not only entail challenges for SMEs. “There will also be tremendous opportunities arising from this twin transition that we are pushing through,” he said.

To identify and harness them, it would be key for SMEs to “be very well informed from the beginning and consulted with during the legislative procedure,” he added.

However, Mortler said several initiatives under the Farm to Fork strategy could “lead to the creation of substantial red tape”. To remedy this, she called on the Commission to improve regulation tools for impact assessments and ensure harmonised rules across the Single Market.

Mortler also called for additional funding to support research and innovation especially for SMEs looking to make their production more sustainable, and better access to finance.

EU reshapes its vision for SMEs amid emerging threats

Policymakers have started re-thinking the EU strategy for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that the European Commission unveiled only a few days before the start of the first lockdown all over Europe.

The European Commission has put in place a number of initiatives that are specifically geared towards financially supporting SMEs.

The Enterprise Europe Network, for instance, provides support to SMEs operating on an international scale. Since 2015, the initiative has been funded by Horizon Europe, the EU’s main programme for fostering research and innovation, as well as the bloc’s programme for small and medium enterprises (COSME).

SME’s “particular needs”

COSME is also meant to improve access to finance for SMEs, according to the Commission.

“SME support networks are there to guide the transition on the spot, close to each SME in their territory,” the Commission’s Mattinò said.

In the case of the Enterprise Europe Network, he added, so-called sustainability advisors were being put in place to help “guide SMEs on their path towards more sustainable actions that are in line with our policy priorities”.

Other EU instruments for supporting small and medium-sized businesses include the European Resource Efficient Knowledge Centre, which aims to support companies in improving their sustainability and research efficiency, and the European Cluster Collaboration Platform, an online hub meant to connect industry clusters.

“We are fully aware of the specificities and particular needs of SMEs and we are targeting specific action at them,” Mattinò concluded.

However, the high debt levels resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic could put a strain on financial support levels for SMEs, Céline Kauffmann, head of the OECD’s division for entrepreneurship and SMEs, cautioned.

“During the coming months, governments across OECD countries are actually phasing out some of the support measures that they have established during the crisis,” she added. “There is a real risk of insolvencies”.

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