EU industry ministers yesterday (1 December) approved the Small Business Act (SBA), accompanied by an action plan to alleviate the immediate effects of the current economic crisis.
The SBA should make it easier for SMEs to access funding and reduce their administrative burdens, while enabling them to fully benefit from the opportunities offered by European and international markets.
Green light to Small Business Act
Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen described the SBA as “the most ambitious project the Commission has ever proposed,” saying it now had to be quickly implemented. The complementary action plan identified better access to finance and the market among SMEs’ most urgent concerns.
As already outlined in the Commission’s economic recovery plan presented last month (EURACTIV 27/11/08), the European Investment Bank (EIB) will increase its lending to SMEs to €30 billion by 2011, of which €15 billion shall be made available in 2009.
Ministers also stressed the need to further reduce red tape, while Germany and others also suggested temporarily raising the state aid threshold, said French State Secretary for SME Policy Hervé Novelli. He added that discussions would continue at today’s meeting of finance ministers and at the European summit on 11-12 December.
Discussions continue on European Private Company
No agreement could be reached on the proposal for the European Private Company Statute, which should facilitate SMEs to set up and run business across EU borders. However, Novelli referred to the “great deal of progress” made and said he was confident that all obstacles could be removed under the incoming Czech Presidency.
No agreement on Community Patent
The French Presidency had also hoped to reach agreement on the Community Patent. The proposal would allow individuals and companies to obtain a single patent throughout the EU and is another key demand by small businesses, but in the end member states did not find a common position on how it should be set up.
“Technically we are very close to an agreement,” but the “political obstacles” proved to be too high, Novelli said.
Support for world-class innovation clusters
Ministers also called for closer ties between industry and science in developing “world-class” innovation clusters, particularly aimed at helping innovative SMEs to promote technology transfer and support the sector’s internationalisation by removing barriers to trade, mobility and free movement of knowledge (EURACTIV 20/10/08).