This article is part of our special report SME’s Access to Finance.
EU member states should apply an 'SME test' to ensure that draft laws do not clash with smaller companies' growth, according to proposals by the EU's SME envoy, who also called for diverting research funds to small businesses.
In an interview with EURACTIV, Daniel Calleja Crespo also disclosed that a new instrument under the EU's next long-term budget for 2014-2020 will offer funding for all SMEs that can demonstrate growth potential, regardless of whether they focus on research or innovation.
The new network of SME envoys was set up following a March 2011 decision by EU ministers in charge of competitiveness. It convened for the first time on 14 September and agreed a number of "deliverables," Crespo said.
These include some issues long at the top of the SME agenda. For example the envoys agreed that it should be possible in all member states to start a business in three days at a cost of no more than €100.
The envoys also agreed to push for improvement to 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.
New block on laws would constitute a bold move
However, the idea of the new block on any new legislation, both at European and national level, is a bolder move which – if eventually adopted – would create a new 'SME test' forcing national governments and the EU executive to pass all new rules only after special consideration of their potential impact on SMEs.
Currently lobbying hard over the EU's new long-term budget, SMEs are uncertain over the extent to which funding mechanisms will be available to all companies, or only those that focus on the Commission's flagship priorities for innovation such as the "healthy and active ageing" programme.
The envoy confirmed, however, that a new funding instrument in development will focus on pumping finance to those SMEs that show growth potential, regardless of their ability to deliver on sector-specific priorities.
Cash will not be reserved for priorities alone
"It is true that with regard to research and innovation programmes, the Commission intends to put specific priorities on tackling the grand societal challenges," Crespo said.
He added that a separate new Business Competitiveness and SME programme in development will produce an "equity facility for growth" and a loan guarantee facility. The facility for growth will take the form of investments by the European Investment Fund (EIF) 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," Crespo added.
The US Small Business Innovation Research Scheme is an international model of SME assistance that is being examined carefully by the EU executive, Crespo also revealed.
Developed during the 1980s, it obliges all US federal agencies to set aside a small percentage of their research budgets to procure research from SMEs.
"We are looking carefully at this scheme and it is an example of how you can get inspiration and find good practice in other countries," said Crespo.