SMEs remain key driver of Europe's economy
The single market matters for small businesses, showed assembly in GrazMaria Koleva , Brussels
Staying connected, sharing knowledge, ideas and best practices, and innovating was the focus of this year's, twelfth in a row, SME Assembly that took place in Graz from 19 to 21 November. It is the most important forum for small and medium-sized enterprises in Europe, organised by the Commission in coordination with the Austrian Presidency of the Council. At Helmut List Halle got together more than 600 entrepreneurs, policy makers, experts, and people from academia, from the financial sector, but also researchers, local authorities, young talents - for a vibrant discussion on the challenges and the solutions for the way forward for SMEs in Europe.
The entrepreneurs voiced their opinion that without the decisive EU support they've received, the picture today for sure should not be so bright, given the devastating financial and economic crisis the businesses passed through.
According to the Commission's annual review on European SMEs, launched during the assembly, the strong recovery of European SMEs continues and their contribution to growth and employment is higher than expected.
It was also confirmed that SMEs remain the EU's economic backbone and the single market is key for small businesses with 80% of all exporting SMEs engaged in intra-EU trade. In the last year, SMEs accounted for 99.8% of all EU-28 non-financial business sector enterprises, for two-thirds of total EU-28 employment, and for slightly less than three-fifths of the value added generated by the non-financial business sector.
In his speech at the forum, Gunther H. Oettinger, Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, pointed out that the EU budget offers generous support to SMEs and that for EU's next long-term budget the EU executive has proposed a dedicated €4bn programme to enable Europe's SMEs to take full advantage of a well-functioning Single Market. Further €2bn under the InvestEU Fund will offer even more options to these companies, he noted.
Bridging the skills gap, the role of innovation in tomorrow's sustainable business models, developing concrete measures to encourage innovation in Europe's SME to flourish, co-designing a pan European scale-up mechanism with best practices from knowledge and innovation communities and clusters, SME internationalisation, were just part of the agenda's topics. One of the masterclasses for example proposed to participants to learn about “everything you ever wanted to know about blockchain but never dared to ask”, others emphasised on smart machines, smart contracts and artificial intelligence.
The assembly also had its 'Oscar night' when the Commission announced the winners of this year's edition of the European Enterprise Promotion Awards. “Lean Landing” by Vaeksthus Sjaelland from Denmark took the Grand Jury Prize for providing chances for small businesses to test whether their products or services can be sold abroad. Out of 190 small companies involved, 80 have successfully crossed borders. The other trophies were given to projects and initiatives from Greece, Austria, Spain, Finland, Portugal and Germany.