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O-000188/2011 (B7-0624/2011)

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PV 24/10/2011 - 15
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Debates
Monday, 24 October 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

15. Small Business Act, crisis and SMEs (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the debate on

– the oral question to the Commission on Small Business Act, crisis and SMEs by Mara Bizzotto, Niki Tzavela, Rolandas Paksas, on behalf of the EFD Group (O-000188/2011 – B7-0624/2011),

– the oral question to the Commission on addressing the shortcomings of SME test implementation by Jürgen Creutzmann, Fiona Hall, Michael Theurer, Andrea Zanoni, on behalf of the ALDE Group (O-000276/2011 – B7-0638/2011).

 
  
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  Niki Tzavela, author.(EL) Madam President, this question was provoked by the drastic changes that have come about on the small and medium-sized enterprise market following the serious recession we are currently experiencing.

The review of the Small Business Act has highlighted the specific problems faced, namely, access to funding, the black market, which is undermining small and medium-sized enterprises, and the internationalisation of European enterprise.

In fact, all this is highly constructive and our question now is how far has it progressed, how many Member States have adopted these proposals, and where do we now stand?

However, the point I wish to emphasise right now is that small and medium-sized enterprises are in dire straits when it comes to borrowing in countries which are experiencing the deepest recessions, such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland. There is a fast-growing default rate on bank loans by small and medium-sized enterprises. Their financial planning was different, their customers’ purchasing power has shrunk, and wages have fallen by 50%.

I therefore suggest, Commissioner, that a central European regulation is needed on loans taken out by small and medium-sized enterprises. Their loan repayment dates also need to be extended and Euribor-based interest rates need to be cut.

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: RAINER WIELAND
Vice-President

 
  
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  Michael Theurer, author. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, President Barroso has already highlighted the significance of small and medium-sized enterprises: 99% of all enterprises in Europe employ fewer than 250 people.

Small and medium-sized enterprises are thus the backbone of employment and training. With the Small Business Act, the European Union began an initiative to improve national and European legislation for small and medium-sized enterprises. It was in this context that the test of the impact of legislation on small and medium-sized enterprises was introduced.

Now, however, a study by the European Parliament has shown significant variation in the way that this SME test is being implemented in the individual Member States, and that in some cases, it is being implemented badly. Only five Member States have made this SME text a binding requirement. Fourteen Member States apply it half-heartedly, irregularly and with varying quality, while eight Member States practically do not carry out the test at all. That is why we in the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe have tabled this question and are calling for the Commission to start an initiative to make this impact assessment a genuinely binding requirement in the Member States. We want the costs of administration and red tape to be quantified, in order to work towards reducing these. Small and medium-sized enterprises need to be saved from national and European legislation that burdens them with more and more additional costs for bureaucracy and administration.

We are in favour of implementation being made very flexible, so that the Member States have room to manoeuvre. However, the aim must be for the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises to be taken into consideration as part of an integrated approach to law making. We also want the Commission to set an example by being the driving force behind this SME-friendly implementation of legislation. We in the European Union should take the lead in making laws that are genuinely capable of being implemented by small and medium-sized enterprises in practice.

 
  
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  Michel Barnier, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, honourable Members, first, I must apologise for the absence of my colleague, Mr Tajani, who would have liked to have followed these issues very closely and proactively, as you know. He has been held up this evening by a G20 preparatory meeting. He has asked me to give you his analysis and to listen to you on an issue in which I myself am involved as the Commissioner for the Internal Market, as you can well imagine. I will also begin by thanking Ms Tzavela and Mr Theurer for having taken the initiative just now to question the Commission about the Small Business Act dossier.

I wish to point out, following on from the debate that we have just had on public procurement, that the 21 million small and medium-sized enterprises account for 99% of European businesses and that almost 90% of them contribute to the creation of new jobs. Ninety-nine per cent of Europe’s economic fabric is made up of these SMEs, which are therefore the key to the growth that we want to rebuild or consolidate, and to our dynamism and our competitiveness.

As you both pointed out, however, these businesses are experiencing great difficulty, particularly at the moment, and, as SMEs, they are encountering too many obstacles that are restricting their mobility as exporters and traders within the internal market. That is precisely why I and my colleagues, and particularly Mr Tajani, have proposed in the Single Market Act legislation to help those who wish to innovate, export, become mobile and trade, which is obviously the case with SMEs.

Clearly, there are many other difficulties, which I will mention briefly: administrative burdens, lack of liquidity, problems in accessing finance – you made that point, Ms Tzavela – lack of visibility in the market with regard to potential investors. They are all hindering the development of SMEs. According to an impact assessment on SMEs and the labour market, the crisis has cost nearly 3 million jobs in European SMEs. That is why we must act.

This is not a new issue. It was the subject of work carried out as early as in 2008, when a cross-cutting, ‘tailor-made’ approach for SMEs resulted in the adoption of the Small Business Act. The latter has enabled significant progress to be made. I should like to cite some examples: the timescales and the costs necessary to start a business have been reduced, and we have adopted important legislative acts, such as the directive on combating late payment and the directive on reduced VAT rates.

Furthermore, the SME test that you yourself mentioned, Mr Theurer, has yielded some positive results. It has been in place since 2009 and is duly applied to proposals having an impact on businesses, something which has also been recognised in a recent study by the European Parliament. Such tests have been carried out, in particular, for the report on the Late Payment Directive and on the ‘standardisation package’. Nevertheless, Mr Theurer, I believe that we must go further, as you yourself requested, and, on Mr Tajani’s initiative, the Commission will be organising a workshop in every Member State in order to roll out these SME tests as much as possible.

When the Small Business Act was reviewed in February, the Commission pledged to enhance this test, and, at the June European Council, President Barroso gave some indication of the direction in which we are working specifically to enhance the part of the SME test that concerns micro businesses. Greater visibility of this test is something else that we want to ensure.

Ladies and gentlemen, this tool, the Small Business Act, is very useful to us when it comes to maintaining the consistency of our work to support SMEs, and it must be enhanced in a number of areas, which I should like to mention quickly.

The first priority is the programme to support the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises. The Commission has proposed a budget of EUR 2.7 billion to support SMEs and, in this regard, we hope that we can count on the support of Parliament in the next financial perspective.

During that debate on the future financial perspective, we also proposed that the budget allocated to supporting SMEs should be doubled. We will also take care to ensure that those funds are allocated, first and foremost, to SMEs that are in the initial growth phase, which is often the most sensitive and most fragile phase for them.

Those funds will be useful to us, but we are also working on tools to solve funding accessibility problems at their source, with measures in three areas: venture capital, stock markets and bank credit. These are issues in which I take a more personal interest, as you know, within the context of my internal market and financial services responsibilities.

In the Single Market Act, we proposed legislation to encourage the mobility of venture capital funds in Europe, which we are going to present in the next few weeks. On the basis of this measure, I and my colleagues, and, in particular, Mr Tajani, shall be looking very closely at the idea of creating a European venture capital fund.

My services and I are also working on ways of mitigating the threshold effects that are preventing a very large number of SMEs from being able to launch themselves on the stock exchange, and on ways of increasing liquidity in these markets, which is currently too low.

Ms Tzavela, you also mentioned access to bank credit. We are well aware that one of the consequences of the crisis is that this bank credit has been restricted, and we have an extremely demanding dialogue with the banks. I am also very mindful of the fact, ladies and gentlemen, that the legislation that we draft, that we present, such as that on the implementation of the Basel rules on non-prudential capitalisation funds and liquidity, which I presented on 20 July, should have special regard to small establishments that are often – on the ground, in the regions, in your countries – banking establishments: there are 8 300 banks in Europe, and they are the ones that finance the real economy, as we know.

Attention will also be paid to SMEs and their innovative role in the future Horizon 2020 – the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Still in the context of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research, and with the specific aim of supporting the risk-sharing finance facility, in early 2012, we are going to launch a new project to make it easier for SMEs that are engaged in research and innovation activities to access bank loans. This new facility will be allocated a budget of EUR 120 million.

We are also going to continue our work to encourage SMEs to participate in European funding programmes – I am thinking, in particular, of the Structural Funds here. My colleague, Johannes Hahn, is particularly concerned with ensuring that these programmes become more accessible to SMEs. I am monitoring this issue from the point of view of public procurement, but it is also important to facilitate SME access through the Structural Fund regulations.

Reducing the administrative burden on SMEs is another major priority. We have an action programme to reduce these burdens, which will come to an end in 2012. We are on course to meet the target to which we have committed ourselves of reducing them by 25%. I believe we could even exceed it if the proposal that we have made to exempt micro businesses from the accounting rules were to be adopted quickly.

All in all, we have already presented more than 200 proposals to simplify the existing legislation and reduce administrative burdens by more than 31%. The proposals that have been adopted thus far represent a 22% reduction, or thereabouts, in the administrative burdens on businesses, and we are going to continue.

Priority number three: the Commission intends to present a new, more consistent strategy to make it easier for SMEs to access public procurement markets. We have just discussed this at length, so I will not go back over it. However, it comes under the simplification of public procurement markets, of public procurement in general, which is a definite priority for the Commission, or for me in any case, as I said earlier. I should also like us to encourage this reciprocity of access where international markets are concerned; this is the aim of the transposition of the multiannual Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) into EU law, which Mr De Gucht and I will be proposing to you.

In order to open up to SMEs markets that should be accessible to them, we have also proposed to extend the European standardisation system to cover services, while further opening up the framework for the development of standards to SMEs.

To be more specific, in the long run, we hope that a culture of partnership can be established between all the stakeholders and that the problems on the ground can be resolved. We have no business drafting theoretical or ideological legislation. We must draft very practical legislation for SMEs.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would say the following in particular to the two MEPs who have tabled these two very useful questions: if you read carefully the Single Market Act and the 12 key proposals that I and around 10 of my colleagues have identified, as well as the 50 proposals that we are implementing, you will see that all of this legislation is proactive legislation aimed at facilitating the work of SMEs. This also applies to issues that I have not had the time to mention, such as the European patent, which Parliament supports and which is often inaccessible to SMEs today on account of its cost.

My colleague recently appointed a Commission representative, Mr Calleja Crespo, to monitor the implementation of EU measures on all SME-related issues with the Member States. He is supported at national level by the ambassadors for SMEs. The first meeting of this network took place in Brussels on 14 September and mainly focused on the issue that you have raised, Ms Tzavela; namely, access to credit.

Ladies and gentlemen, close cooperation between all the European and national institutions is crucial to the effective implementation of this Small Business Act and, more generally, of the Single Market Act and all these initiatives, and to enabling European SMEs to withstand this crisis. In order to successfully overcome this crisis and win the growth, employment and competitiveness battle, it is imperative that SMEs hold their own and, to ensure this, we must help them in any way we can.

 
  
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  Bendt Bendtsen, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DA) Mr President, I would like to thank the Commissioner for the commitment he has shown to small and medium-sized enterprises. The Small Business Act is the umbrella that is intended to encompass the legislation relating to our small and medium-sized enterprises. There are three aspects that are important when we are discussing this matter: 1) access to capital; 2) access to the markets, which we have discussed today; and 3) tackling administrative burdens.

There is no doubt that the economic crisis has made it very difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises to gain access to capital. I look forward to the Commission’s proposal in which, by means of guarantees, we will ensure that healthy and well-functioning small and medium-sized enterprises are given the opportunity to obtain access to capital. Access to markets obviously entails a well-functioning internal market. However, it also entails an opportunity for small and medium-sized enterprises to reach out and have a share in the growth of the new emerging countries. I am talking here about China, India, Brazil and other countries. We know that they have high growth rates, and if we are to increase growth in Europe, our small and medium-sized enterprises must reach out and gain access to these markets, and that is something that we need to help them with.

Finally, there is no doubt that if we are to set about combating bureaucracy, it is important that the Member States – but also we here in the European Parliament – put their own house in order. The fact is, we know that the implementation of the Capital Requirements Directive IV will involve greater bolstering of the banks. This once again means that the banking market for small and medium-sized enterprises will suffer. We therefore need to support the legislation in this area.

 
  
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  Patrizia Toia, on behalf of the S&D Group.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the crisis in Europe is interlinking the problems of public budgets and private capital with those of the productivity of our businesses in a vicious circle, and the spectre of recession is looming. Therefore, if small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are our top priority, I would call on the Commission, alongside Parliament, to make absolutely sure that our good principles are put into practice and that the Member States turn the legislative initiatives of the Small Business Act (SBA) into highly effective, high-quality, concrete measures.

Just think, Commissioner, what would happen if the Late Payment Directive were implemented early in all the Member States, and what a great benefit to SMEs it would be! The SME tests are important, but we are still at the method stage. Of course, it is only right to check that the laws we make really are suited to SMEs and further their interests, but we would urge you to persevere and examine the issues very thoroughly when setting up this framework of opportunity that you have sketched out. We also appreciate what the Commission has been doing and we are ready with the budget and the other options that we have to support it.

I would just like to say a word about credit. We have to make our position clear to the banks – I am saying this to you, Commissioner – because SMEs need help …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Sir Graham Watson, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, I welcome the Commission’s proposals and I pay tribute to the work of Parliament’s rapporteurs.

SMEs are the bread and butter of our economy. They are the reservoirs of entrepreneurial spirit, the employment generators and the embryos of tomorrow’s big businesses. In the past, they have too often been overlooked by the social partners representing big industry and big employers. Key to their success is access to finance. The European Investment Fund has been hugely important for small businesses in my constituency and I welcome the Commissioner’s commitment to consider new opportunities for venture capital.

Mr President, access to finance is important and we need to ensure that our banking system, when recapitalised, is lending again to small businesses. We welcome too the Commission’s proposals on late payments. I hope the Commission will do something about simplifying VAT, particularly in cross- border transactions. I visited a local firm in my constituency, Foundrax in Somerton, who tell me there are currently some 27 VAT thresholds in place; that makes it very difficult for small businesses to trade. I hope, too, the Commission will look again at employment law, which requires impact assessments and sometimes sunset clauses to be able to deal with small businesses.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149 (8))

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI).(DE) Mr Watson, you are a very experienced parliamentarian and you are also very familiar with China. How would you reply if asked during your time in Parliament what progress has actually been made for SMEs in relation to the issue that I am grateful to you for having brought up? Do you see progress at the moment? Is it not just more of the same – in other words, excessive bureaucracy? Also, comparing this with your experiences in China, would you say that SMEs – where they exist, and many do exist – are subject to less regulation in China than in the European Union?

 
  
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  Sir Graham Watson (ALDE). – Mr President, I welcome the question. I have actually worked as a financier on the China coast and seen the difficulties that small businesses come up against in China. Of course they are less regulated in different ways, but they face many challenges that ours do not.

I believe we have, broadly, the framework for legislation for SMEs right. I hope the Commission will help them now by giving serious consideration to investment in things like broadband, cheaper energy – such as from renewable sources – and transport links, which will help these people to trade and to prosper.

 
  
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  James Nicholson, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, I can identify with what the Commissioner has said, because in my constituency of Northern Ireland, over 99% of the businesses are SMEs, and we depend on them for growth. The impact on the regional economy at the moment is very severe because of the economic climate. In the current financial climate, SMEs across Europe are operating in these tough times, so those small businesses face various pressures – not least, difficulty in accessing credit. Where I come from, this is a tremendous problem.

However, another issue is the red tape and bureaucracy which they have to contend with on a daily basis. I would be interested to hear the answer from the Commission regarding the effectiveness of the Small Business Act and, in particular, the SME test, in proving to be truly effective in analysing the effects of EU legislation on SMEs across the different Member States.

I think we have got to be careful in Europe that we do not over-regulate ourselves out of the market and let others take that market while we sit back and let them do it.

 
  
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  Reinhard Bütikofer, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Small Business Act is a fine thing; it is not a law, however, but a proclamation. If we want the Commission genuinely to set an example – as Mr Theurer said – as regards an SME-friendly approach, then we need to pay attention to two things in particular: to the question of funding, and to the question of decision-making options. I would like to make three points regarding these.

Firstly, research programmes. I am still not happy with the way that the negotiations between the Directorate-General on Enterprise and Industry and the Directorate-General on Research and Innovation have been conducted to date concerning the future of what we have come to know as the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, which has been an extremely beneficial programme for small and medium-sized enterprises. We will have to see how the Business Competitiveness and SME Programme works in future. This House must impose one criterion on the Commission, however. For small and medium-sized enterprises, it is not just a matter of more funding; it is also a matter of making access to these programmes easier and less bureaucratic than was the case previously.

It is also a matter of adopting a broad definition of innovation. This was one of the main topics when representatives of SMEs met in Brussels a few weeks back for the European SME Week. One of the principal aspects that they want us to consider is that innovation is more than just research, particularly for these small and medium-sized enterprises. Innovation by small and medium-sized enterprises can also make a contribution to the great social challenges. That is why we must make things more accessible for them, and not leave them dependent on the large enterprises that have plenty of resources for research. It is time for the Commission to show that its fine words can also be put into practice for the benefit of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Now for my second point: Structural Funds. I am grateful that Commissioner Barnier has mentioned this. Access for small and medium-sized enterprises needs to be drastically improved. We need to have local and regional partnerships between the public sector, research facilities, universities and small and medium-sized enterprises. There are many outstanding examples of this, such as Steinbeis or Innovation Vouchers, or the example of Cambridge. There are many examples from which we can learn how to improve the position of small and medium-sized enterprises in Europe.

One final point: we also need to give SMEs greater responsibility when it comes to governance structures. It is regrettable that the Commission has not been able to give small and medium-sized enterprises voting rights in its proposal for the renewal of standardisation.

 
  
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  Fiorello Provera, on behalf of the EFD Group.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I will talk about the area I know best, northern Italy. The most important issue for our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at the moment is access to credit; it is far more important than excessive red tape, the tax burden or international competition, particularly from China.

The banks are being forced to recapitalise and get rid of the debts caused by their financial speculation, and so they are not granting any more credit to SMEs, which are too small to have their own capital resources or to provide guarantees. Small businesses are therefore unable to contribute to the country’s economic recovery, even if they are willing to do so.

It is therefore essential to expand credit schemes of various kinds in favour of SMEs and to improve information about the availability of the financial instruments at their disposal, the Structural Funds in particular. Without money, there is no research, no equipment renewal and no possibility of investing, and therefore it is impossible to contribute to the country’s wellbeing.

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI).(DE) Mr President, we are familiar with all of it. It has all been said already – just not by everyone. I do not want to join in; instead, I want to praise you again, Commissioner. What you have said is right and important. It is just that it has not yet come about. The reality – if you have dealings with representatives of SMEs – is still a long way away from what the European Union can actually achieve, whether in reducing bureaucracy or in access to the appropriate public funding. You know the figures: only 34% of all public contracts that are put out to tender in the European Union go to SMEs, even though, on average, they account for more than half of economic output. There is a reason for that, and it has a great deal to do with what you are specifically doing. That is still a challenge for you. We can be optimistic; indeed, I would like to be.

In the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, I have frequently had opportunity to draw up reports dealing with standardisation of statistics and easier access. At the end of the day, however, it is always largely concerned with ease of reading and access to information. A lot more could still be done in the area of your Internet portals and the opportunities to get funding with as little red tape as possible. I would urge and encourage you to pay particular attention to this as you carry out your duties.

 
  
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  Pilar del Castillo Vera (PPE).(ES) Mr President, Commissioner, whenever there has previously been any discussion about SMEs, the focus has been on intervention in financial matters, the lack of liquidity and problems in accessing credit, because that is really the main problem. It is the main problem for governments, SMEs, all companies, banks and, to a large extent, I would say it is the main problem, above all, for each and every member of society.

However, allow me to focus on one dimension that I feel is strategically fundamental, and that has only been partially touched upon. It is to do with the internal market. Over recent weeks, the European institutions have been insisting on the importance of taking a decisive step forward in developing the internal market as a strategic element or strategic factor in overcoming the crisis.

If we look at the relationship between the internal market and SMEs today, we can see that only 23% of these companies engage in cross-border trade, and that only 13% export outside the European Union, and this gives us a clear idea of how far we still have to go in this area. The problem is that it is very difficult to tackle the current legislative fragmentation on basic issues in the internal market. When SMEs compare the costs and profits, it is really very hard for them to finance the fragmentation in the internal market today, and this is something that must be resolved.

 
  
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  Judith A. Merkies (S&D).(NL) Mr President, in these times of crisis, we are finally considering entrepreneurs and enterprise. Money – as important as it is – is not the only consideration here. Other considerations include having the right education, making connections and creating and also accommodating innovation. A lot of attention is being paid to SMEs, but is that attention well placed? I say this as I have noticed many tendencies towards research once again, but little towards innovation and the SMEs sector.

More attention needs to be paid to the whole financial cycle and also to all kinds of stimulus measures, which are not always within the gift of you or the Commission. Very often, for instance, what is needed are small sums, business angels and venture capital, for the SMEs sector. How would you regulate that with this fund? Will the fund that you have been talking about cover all these issues for small sums, too? It is often start-ups that need small sums.

When it comes to having a second bite at the cherry – we need the experience of every entrepreneur for a second chance. Mr Tajani, your colleague, writes in a letter to us that the Commission’s policy for second-chance entrepreneurs is not good and that the procedures are really pretty poor. Have you managed to come to a more positive position in respect of second-chance entrepreneurs, and what are you going to do about this?

 
  
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  Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE). – Mr President, the SME sector is the central pillar of the Irish and the European economy. In Ireland, approximately one quarter of a million SMEs employ over 800 000, contributing massively to tax income and social insurances. The sector provides sustainable and long-term employment in many towns and villages throughout my constituency in the north-west of Ireland.

The cost and availability of credit remains the single biggest obstacle facing this sector, this despite the taxpayer support received by the Irish banking sector. As a result, many viable businesses are struggling to maintain employment levels through the recession. In addition, reference has been made to red tape and bureaucracy. It continues to hinder the creation of jobs and must be addressed at European level. I would remind the House, and remind the Commissioner, that President Barroso gave a commitment in his State of the Union address here last year that red tape would be reduced and it would save billions. I have yet to see the effect of this.

The SME sector is the engine of the European economy. However, we must provide support by implementing policies to ensure an economic atmosphere conducive to investment and economic growth.

 
  
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  Evžen Tošenovský (ECR). (CS) Mr President, we all surely agree on the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to the economic development of Member States, and thus the stability of the entire EU. I very much applaud the approach of reducing and simplifying the bureaucratic burden on small businesses. I know from owners of small businesses that this approach is viewed very positively.

On the other hand, we must not forget the other regulatory standards adopted by the European Parliament. These have a very heavy impact on SMEs. The regulations for restaurants, excessive mandatory product labelling and so on not only increase costs, but also undermine the competitiveness of small businesses. It is an enormous burden for them just to keep up with the changes to European legislation. The obligations relating to employees are also a major problem. The effort to maximise protection of employees often increases the unwillingness to employ workers in compliance with all the rules based on the legislation. When adopting regulating standards, we should therefore always think very carefully about the impact on small businesses.

 
  
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  Claudio Morganti (EFD).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is universally acknowledged that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a substantial and important role in Europe’s economy, and it is therefore only fair that they should be the focus of Union action. Access to credit is often quoted as one of the main problems facing SMEs, and we have talked about it extensively today.

With the entry into force of the Basel III rules, however, it may become even more difficult and expensive. Although Basel III was drawn up with the right intentions, it calls for higher capital requirements for the banks, and that necessarily means a squeeze on granting credit and higher financing costs, which is liable to hit SMEs the hardest.

Seeing that loans to SMEs are low risk, would it not be possible to adopt specific measures to resolve this problem? In addition, and most importantly, they need to innovate to remain competitive, but is it possible to innovate without the resources to do so?

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Mr President, only 10% of SMEs export to other Member States and still fewer to countries outside Europe. Many SMEs are micro businesses with few employees. Offices to advise SMEs in China, help with collecting debts from other Member States, and greater access to venture capital all have rather limited appeal to micro businesses and small businesses with a limited scope of activity. SMEs, especially the small ones, when asked what they want from the government or from the EU, do not say this advice, that grant or guarantee, or the other training; they simply want freedom from excessive regulation and oppressive taxation.

From 1998 to 2010, the cost of EU regulation to the United Kingdom alone was 124 000 million. Over-regulation has made medium-sized enterprises less able to compete with other, less regulated countries in other continents. The Act contains fine phrases and bold ambitions. They have much less to do with business, but a lot more to do with EU dogma.

 
  
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  Amalia Sartori (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, although, over the last two years – which have been so difficult for Europe’s economy – our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have felt the crisis, particularly in terms of jobs, they have stood up very well and remain the backbone of our economy.

Of all the information that I have been able to read, one item is, I think, particularly interesting: small and medium-sized enterprises that are based and operate in Member States that are at the forefront of innovation are recovering much more quickly than those based in countries regarded as modest innovators.

That means that the path that Europe has decided to pursue through the Europe 2020 strategy, together with the role it is seeking to give to innovation, is the right one. We must ensure, however, that it produces practical results much more quickly than was expected prior to 2009. We must also make sure that the Member States keep their promises, implement the directives and make life simpler for our SMEs.

The Commissioner’s speech highlighted some important figures that we know are connected to the situation that SMEs in the European Union find themselves in, and I found one point particularly interesting: the idea of encouraging microenterprises. They will be a discovery for everyone.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the economic and financial crisis has had a powerful impact on the activities of European SMEs, while discouraging the development of innovative companies.

In Romania, 55% of SMEs posted poorer financial results in 2010 compared with 2009, with the general economic climate being viewed as detrimental to the business sector by 70% of small and medium-sized businesses.

Given the importance of the activities performed by SMEs in support of the European economy and employment, and the fact that 67% of jobs throughout the EU are created by SMEs, we must ensure that their development is encouraged, access to funding is made easier and that their activities on the single market are not hampered by one-off red tape measures.

I think that we have invested too much in bailing out the European banking system at a time when productive, sustainable jobs are being generated by small and medium-sized economic operators.

 
  
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  Niccolò Rinaldi (ALDE).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, if we could hear a small businessman or woman speak in this Chamber today, we would hear a story that is even more worrying than the details we have been given, especially because of the four structural problems facing this sector, which is a crucial sector and an integral part of Europe’s identity. The four problems are help for internationalisation, reducing red tape – we have heard about the hurdles that have to be overcome just to pay VAT in the various countries – innovation and access to the Structural Funds, which some Member States are not using as they should, and access to credit.

Commissioner, it is unacceptable that Europe should recapitalise the banks without imposing strict conditions to make them facilitate access to credit for such a crucial sector of the European economy as small and medium-sized enterprises, which are now not being rewarded but held to ransom, if not crippled, by the credit institutions.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Mr President, findings from recent studies confirm that, despite the extensive activities and interventions of European institutions, business conditions have not yet improved for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Most Member States evaluate the quality of the legislative environment for the activities of SMEs only on a formal basis, and pay scant regard to the implementation of European law in this area. In view of the critical economic situation in Europe, we should be more consistent in putting pressure on Member States to eliminate the excessive bureaucratic burden. In my country, a small tradesman such as a baker or restaurant operator must regularly submit detailed reports to as many as six state institutions. Every business change requires the completion of new approval and permit procedures, and the involvement of at least three or more government bodies. What is the situation in those countries whose economic growth we now envy? Small tradesmen in those countries do business, pay taxes and that is all. We must also try to simplify the mechanisms for small businesses.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, three years ago, the EU once again announced that it was going to pay closer attention to small and medium-sized enterprises. However, immediately after the initiative got under way, the economic crisis hit SMEs particularly hard, and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s ever tighter regulations, in particular, are strangling the financial air out of poorly capitalised small and medium-sized enterprises.

The EU study into high growth potential for small and medium-sized enterprises in markets outside the EU and the adapted strategy promised for the end of the month are sure to make little to no difference when it comes to the fundamental issues. The sovereign debt crisis is paralysing economic growth, while there is not really much trace of the promised cuts in red tape. If 99% of European businesses – which, by the way, are also the largest employers – are only able to tap 10 to 15% of European funding, it is high time that the EU’s system of subsidising conglomerates and multinationals were changed by repatriating the supporting body, and that we came swiftly and unbureaucratically to the aid of small and medium-sized enterprises.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner Barnier, I think that the Slovak finance minister, Mr Mikloš, hit the nail on the head when he said that people who invest in our economy and create jobs, and who also bear the risk of doing so, should not have their money taken away from them. We should be trying to support those who create jobs and take on risks as much as possible and in such a way that they have the right liquidity. In other words, they simply need products and services that customers buy. If they can sell at a profit, that provides creditworthiness in their businesses, and that, in turn, enables them to obtain credit.

That is the real challenge in this crisis – for Europe to become more competitive again. We need to see that our companies become internationally more competitive, and to do that we need a new training and qualification strategy in our businesses. Even if you only look at what energy efficiency renovation can give architects, craftspeople and new workers in Europe, you can see that it is the right strategy to pursue this and to examine whether the current taxation model in the Member States is the right one. Not for nothing is Bulgaria ahead of the pack with its 10% income tax rate, while Greece has the highest rate at 40%, and ultimately has entrepreneurs refusing to pay. In this situation, we need to become familiar with the Laffer curve, which, quite simply, expresses the optimal level of taxation.

 
  
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  Krišjānis Kariņš (PPE). (LV) Mr President, crisis, crisis, crisis. Everyone is talking about the crisis. However, we should rather start thinking not about the causes of the crisis, about the banking sector and government debt, but about the way out of the crisis. There will be a way out of the crisis when there are new jobs. These new jobs will create economic growth. However, ladies and gentlemen, these new jobs will not appear either in the banking sector or in large enterprises. The new jobs will appear in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which already employ over 90 million individuals all over Europe. Therefore, it is precisely to the SME sector that we must pay greater attention if we are to overcome the crisis. Why? First, because small enterprises are able to adapt quickly and learn from their own mistakes. Second, they are able to react quickly to market changes. Third, and this is very important in my opinion, they will be the first to create new jobs and to employ young people. So, what must we do to help this sector? Three things: 1) keep our borders open and unrestricted; 2) provide financing opportunities via guarantees and risk capital; and 3) reduce the administrative burden that hampers their growth. Let us help small and medium-sized enterprises. They will help us out of the crisis. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). (GA) Mr President, it is fitting that we are talking about this important matter tonight, which may be as important as the major talks taking place at present in the Council.

Mr President, the statistics are compelling: 22.5 million unemployed in Europe, yet there are 23 million SMEs and, if each of them created one job, we would have a surfeit of employment. If you asked SMEs individually whether they could create one job, I think many of them would tell you that in the right circumstances, they certainly could.

One of those circumstances is access to credit, which has been pointed out. I know that in my country, while the banks have been capitalised, they have become terrible in terms of assisting SMEs, even for minimal overdrafts. This is not acceptable and it certainly needs to be looked at. The Commissioner also quite rightly pointed out in the last debate the need for simpler regulations regarding SMEs in terms of public procurement, etc. He also mentioned the importance of venture capital. We are not up to speed with venture capital, particularly compared to the USA, and certainly it is an opportunity to pollinate the economy to create innovative employment.

Finally, regarding e-commerce, there are different statistics going about, but certainly here is a wonderful opportunity, as well, to help grow the economy, SMEs and employment.

 
  
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  Andreas Schwab (PPE).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, small and medium-sized enterprises – this has been said many times already – benefit, above all, from rules that apply to everyone in the same way. That being the case, it is unfortunate that we still do not have the single market governance in Europe that we perhaps will have after the adoption of the Single Market Act, following the adoption of 50 further measures. This is needed because small and medium-sized enterprises have interests that are so general that, unfortunately, they are not represented individually. There are many examples of this, such as access to third countries and to funding and even European standardisation.

We have therefore tried, with the Consumer Rights Directive, to provide small and medium-sized enterprises that are active online and that are looking to work in new markets with rules, through complete harmonisation, that deliver the whole single market from anywhere in Europe. We need more such examples, as small and medium-sized enterprises do not have specific interests but simply have the interest of dealing with uniform rules. We should work harder to bring that about.

 
  
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  Małgorzata Handzlik (PPE).(PL) Mr President, Commissioner, as shadow rapporteur for the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) in work on amendments to the directive on combating late payment in commercial transactions, I would like to return to this issue.

There is still a huge disproportion with regard to the situation of small and medium-sized enterprises in particular countries. Unfortunately, the poor situation facing many small and medium-sized enterprises in those countries that were in a difficult situation in 2008-2009 has only deteriorated. The data available show that the situation with regard to late payment has improved only for a small number of them. The proposal made by Commissioner Tajani that he will ask the Member States to implement the provisions of this directive as soon as possible is a very good initiative and I join in with this appeal. I think that businesses, more than when we had the opportunity to debate the amendments to the directive, need to receive the payments due to them on time.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, as the major source of job creation, SMEs are directly involved in the European Union’s economic recovery and growth. The aim of the Small Business Act, adopted in June 2008, is to enhance the spirit of enterprise within independent companies in order to boost competitiveness.

I support the development of education in this area by applying the best practices in Europe. In my country, the START programme is intending to develop business skills among young people. The EU must encourage SMEs by facilitating their access to funding. On this point, I want to welcome the granting of European funds for advertising. The new government programmes aimed at stimulating the activities of Romanian SMEs have created or saved more than 300 000 jobs.

At the same time, Romania is one of the Member States which have adopted measures to facilitate funding for SMEs, based on public assistance granted to guarantee schemes.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE).(RO) Mr President, just as the adoption of the Small Business Act document in 2008 has benefited entrepreneurs in Europe, making the procedure for setting up a company not only easier and simpler, but also more cost-effective, I would like to introduce for discussion under this item on the agenda European Private Companies, EPCs for short.

We all know that, in practical terms, EPCs would mean that SMEs can carry out their professional activities no matter which region of the European Union they are located in, as well as in their own country. If they opt to become an EPC, entrepreneurs will save time and money in legal aid, management and administration.

I think that, at the present time, governments must come to an agreement on a new legislative act to enable small enterprises to register as European Private Companies, precisely in order to be able to ensure the development of such companies with European support. I think that this option, in addition to adopting the European sales contract, would mark a real leap forward for SMEs in the European Union.

 
  
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  Kay Swinburne (ECR). – Mr President, Welsh SMEs provide 99% of my nation’s employment. However, they are really struggling right now with the economic downturn, and although I appreciate the Small Business Test and all the efforts under the Procurement Directive and such initiatives, they actually still do not help directly the micro- and small businesses in this current climate.

Wales is subject to top-level convergence funding, and given that the primary funding objective is that of raising standards of competitiveness in the poorest-performing regions, I would like to urge the Commission to encourage regional governments to use the money directly to support the expansion of SMEs.

Micro businesses employ thousands of people. Assisting them to employ a single new employee through a targeted use of convergence funding could have a hugely stimulating effect on the local, national – and EU – economy. SMEs need less red tape, yes, but they need more assistance through direct action.

Let us coordinate our policies to re-stimulate growth.

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE). (HU) Mr President, Commissioner, today’s questions to the Commission on the Small Business Act show that there is a lot of work to be done in order to ensure that this segment of European enterprises can work in a truly growth-oriented market environment.

This segment of entrepreneurs have been hit the hardest by the economic crisis, by having their already scarce funding cut even further, especially where the start-up or innovative SMEs are concerned.

I think that the way out of the crisis for the EU greatly depends on how we support SMEs, which make up 99% of enterprises, and on how we improve the availability of resources that would guarantee their smooth operation. I support, for example, the SME test, and I support the simplification of administrative procedures.

 
  
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  Michel Barnier, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, I am grateful to you all for your questions and for the points that you have raised. I have listened to them very carefully and will, of course, communicate them to my colleague, Mr Tajani. I am going to try to respond briefly to each and every one of you.

Firstly, as Ms Sartori said, a large number of the problems faced by small and medium-sized enterprises do, after all, stem from the national administrative, bureaucratic and fiscal context or environment. Therefore, we must take action alongside the Member States, and first and foremost at that level, while also taking action at European level. I would also say to Ms Sartori that the text on very small businesses, which you know well, is now at second reading in the Council and should come here, before your Parliament, in February.

Mr Paška raised the issue of the Member States’ powers, and just now Ms Swinburne talked about micro businesses, for which we must simplify matters. Many of you, including Mr Bendtsen, Mr Provera, Mr Brons, Mr Rinaldi and Ms Gáll-Pelcz, raised the issue of financing, which took up a large part of my introduction earlier. I wish to confirm what I said about financing, namely, that we want to make it easier to export and obtain credit.

When I implement the Basel or G20 rules for every single one of Europe’s 8 300 banks, of which nearly 4 000 are cooperatives – many are small regional banks that are partners of businesses – I am, of course, very mindful of the impact of these recapitalisation measures on the economic base. This is also true of the internationalisation of SMEs, on which Mr Tajani, acting on behalf of the Commission, will be presenting a communication on 9 November.

I should like to say to Mr Watson and Mr Rübig that we are also paying close attention to taxation. My colleague, Mr Šemeta, will be addressing this issue of the complexity, or rather – I shall put it in positive terms – of the simplification of the VAT framework, in particular with regard to everything to do with cross-border constraints, in a Green Paper that he will present at the end of 2011.

Ms Merkies talked about a second chance for honest entrepreneurs and about the issue of non-fraudulent bankruptcies. I just want to say to her that, while only 4% or 6% of bankruptcies are fraudulent, there is obviously a fairly strong link between company bankruptcies and fraud in the eyes of the public.

In 2010, a Commission project established that the length of discharge procedures was one of the main obstacles preventing entrepreneurs from being given a second chance. The 2011 review of the Small Business Act calls on the Member States to impose a maximum three-year limit on the discharge of honest entrepreneurs who have gone bankrupt, so that they can be freed of all their debts and can start trading again. The Commission will be monitoring the progress made in this area. That is the response I wished to give to Ms Merkies on this important point.

I would also say to Mr Kelly that I am going to propose a measure, within the scope of the Single Market Act, to promote the mobility of venture capital. This does not change the fact, Mr Kelly, that there are fewer funds available for venture capital, as I was able to see again the other day when I was in Munich meeting some small business people who need this credit, but with this passport, we are going to try to promote the mobility of venture capital funds.

Ms Toia and Ms Handzlik mentioned the Late Payment Directive and its proper application. I can confirm that my colleague, Mr Tajani, has appealed to all the Member States to implement it before the deadline.

I would say to Mr Luhan that, in every single area – I could go back over them in detail, but we are short of time – I and my colleagues, particularly Mr Tajani and Mr Šemeta, are looking at ways of introducing specific legislation for SMEs. Earlier we cited the example of public procurement, to which SMEs must have better access.

Mr Nicholson talked about bureaucracy. If we looked carefully, we would find that bureaucracy exists outside Brussels, too. Bureaucracy certainly does exist in Brussels; we can simplify the rules, and we are scrupulously attempting to do so, with one piece of legislation at a time, but I also think that an effort must be made to cut red tape at national level. I can confirm to Mr Nicholson and Mr Gallagher that we are carrying out this SME test. The European Commission does so for every piece of legislation that it drafts. As I said earlier, we are going to verify that this SME test is actually being implemented in every Member State.

Mr Bütikofer mentioned the problems relating to the dialogue and the good cooperation that he wishes to see between the Directorate-General for Research and the Directorate-General for Enterprise. We are, of course, working to establish this good cooperation within the Commission. This is the case with the work being done by Ms Geoghegan-Quinn together with Mr Tajani, traces of which you will find in the new financial perspective. There will be two new frameworks, Mr Bütikofer: one on competitiveness and SMEs, and another to help SMEs to access research funding.

With regard to the issue raised by Mr Morganti on standardisation, Mr Tajani’s proposal is being discussed. I can confirm that SMEs, through the organisations and the institutions that are participating in this work on standardisation, are not discriminated against. They have a say in the matter. They can make their opinion heard.

Mr Kariņš asked earlier where growth will come from. I believe, when we see how important SMEs are – they make up 99% of the economic base – that growth will come, first and foremost, from SMEs that are much more adaptable, much more mobile and much better able to withstand crises. Mr Kariņš called for the opening of borders. Borders do need to be open, but we must not be naive, ladies and gentlemen! That is why we are going to introduce this tool for providing reciprocal access to public procurement markets in the major regions of the world.

Mr Obermayr called for the renationalisation of European policies. I disagree with you, Mr Obermayr. If you go down that road, you are going to weaken, fragment the single market again, and we know full well that we need a large European market to restore growth. Believe me, when you are in China or the United States, the only reason we are respected by those quarters, by those major countries, new and old, is because of our internal market made up of these 22 million businesses and these 500 million consumers. I urge you, let us not go down the road of renationalisation or national withdrawal. I am well aware that this ideology exists, but I do not believe it is the right one for SMEs.

Ms Băsescu spoke just now about training credit. This is a subject on which we need to have European policies, since many Member States do not have sufficient credit for that.

As I was talking about growth, I will take the opportunity to say that Mr Tajani and I are working on an issue that is not straightforward, since, not so long ago, industrial policy was still a dirty word. I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that we should become bold again like we were at the start of the European project, with the Coal and Steel Community, and like a number of manufacturers have been with Airbus, by bringing in industrial sectoral policies.

There are a few strategic areas – new information technologies, public health-related biotechnology, new energy sources, materials, transport – in which we simply have to ensure Europe’s independence, our ability to stand alone and not to depend solely on technologies or products manufactured by others. As Commissioner for the Internal Market, I do not accept that Europe is simply a land of services. We are well aware that we need services, but we must remain a land of production and not settle for consuming or buying products manufactured in the territory of, and by, others.

That is why I believe that the time will come when we have to call together for new industrial policy initiatives – that is my personal opinion, but I am working on this with Mr Tajani. Mr Schwab is very familiar with this work that we have done together, particularly with Mr Grech’s report and the numerous pieces of work that have been carried out. I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, since you are all interested in the fate and the future of SMEs, to take a good look at this scoreboard, which is the scoreboard of the Single Market Act. I have worked on it with around 10 of my colleagues, the main one being Mr Tajani, but not just him. We have identified 12 tools for growth and made around 50 proposals, including 12 key ones. Some concern, I repeat, innovation and research, and, more specifically, the European patent, which we and the Polish Presidency hope to obtain in the next few weeks.

Ladies and gentlemen, all of these proposals that we are going to make, if possible, over the next two years – and as early as this year and the beginning of the next for many of them – are helpful, proactive proposals and regulations that are designed to ensure that the single market, which is too often perceived as an area of constraints, becomes an area of opportunities for SMEs.

Those who know me know that I am against theoretical or ideological legislation. SMEs need their lives to be made easier; they need investment, innovation, mobility and taxation to be made easier. That is precisely the aim of the work that my colleagues and I are doing to bring SMEs closer to the single market, as I said on the day of my appointment as Commissioner. SMEs feel that this single market is made for large operators and big players. I want that to change, as does Mr Tajani. That is the answer I wanted to give to Mr Schwab, but also to Mr Martin and Ms del Castillo Vera, who raised these issues.

I would also point out that we have launched a web portal specifically for SMEs so as to help them find information on everything that we are doing. We will return to these issues with Mr Tajani and put them all together so as to actually show what we are doing in all EU legislation, as a sort of SME-Europe contract. Our work is about bringing SMEs and the single market closer together, and that is also the way in which we must go about restoring growth. I am convinced that growth will come, first and foremost, from SMEs.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Liam Aylward (ALDE), in writing.(GA) According to the Small Business Act, a strong small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector would add to the capacity of the EU to withstand the uncertainties of life today. Despite that, SMEs still find it extremely difficult to access funding and capital.

It was in this room last year that I told Parliament that many small family businesses had contacted me in relation to problems with accessing funding and credit. The situation has worsened since then, and many of those businesses have had to close or let people go. According to the latest report from the European Central Bank in relation to SMEs’ access to funding, there has been no change or reduction in the number of SMEs reporting that they have difficulties in accessing capital.

We in the EU are constantly talking about the importance of SMEs for the economic recovery and competitiveness of the EU, but little has been done to deal with the big obstacle facing SMEs: access to capital. That must be addressed immediately and the Commission must make it central to any policy that applies to SMEs.

 
  
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  Corina Creţu (S&D), in writing.(RO) One third of SMEs in Romania posted poorer results in 2010 than in the previous year, while representatives of two thirds of SMEs in Romania regard the general economic climate as hostile. One of the main causes of the decline in this sector is the drop in domestic demand due to the fall in consumption by the population. The Romanian Government’s austerity policy is tantamount to stopping the engine of a car on a slope to save petrol. However, we are facing the risk of the brakes turning out to be faulty and of disaster being closer than the fanatics imposing excessive taxation and appalling reductions in sources of income for the population may realise. Inflation, delays in the payment of invoices by the state, and the high cost of credit are another few obstacles hindering SMEs’ development. This is the reality we face in many EU Member States even though SMEs have been placed at the heart of the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs since 2005. Against this background, a joint programme is required to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit at a time when private initiative can come to the rescue of investors who have gone bankrupt and of workers who have lost their jobs due to the economic crisis.

 
  
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  Elisabetta Gardini (PPE), in writing.(IT) Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for 99% of all European businesses and provide jobs for more than 90 million people. These are the figures we need to use as a basis for a constructive debate, particularly in view of the recent economic crisis, which has resulted in the loss of some 3.25 million jobs in SMEs. It is also true that our enterprises have deeply rooted structural weaknesses. These include poor international exports, difficulties accessing credit and endemic European bureaucracy. To give just one example, it costs only EUR 694 to open a business in the US, whereas the average cost in Europe is EUR 2 285, and it takes two to three months to obtain a licence. We need to make this simpler. European businesses have to deal with excessive bureaucracy and administration costs every day, and this does not help them in their daily struggle to compete with China and the other emerging economies. This is why I hope that Europe can be made more competitive, through the creation of more favourable conditions for doing business that will boost the growth of SMEs, helping them overcome the issues that hinder their development, and through the promotion of an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset among young people.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE), in writing. – Europe has been slow in responding to the current financial crisis. The focus has been put on fighting the fire instead of investing in the future. May I remind the Member States that the drivers of economic growth and creators of new jobs are, and continue to be, SMEs. It is really alarming to see from the 2011 Small Business Act review that at national level, it is mostly the same limited number of Member States that are engaging seriously in implementing the SBA. An urgent task for the Member States is to review the SME financing schemes and administrative burdens, making their application and reporting procedures less bureaucratic. The EU’s good example in establishing the ‘only once’ principle, which would prevent public authorities and administrative bodies from requesting the same information on different occasions, should be applied unconditionally to ensure SMEs see a radical reduction of administrative bureaucracy. Also, improved and more efficient loan guarantee schemes should be made available for SMEs with no further delay. For the ‘SME test’ to be effectively implemented in every Member State, the EU should develop clear guidelines to ensure the quality and regularity of the test in question.

 
  
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  Bogdan Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz (PPE), in writing.(PL) To begin with, I would like to emphasise strongly that the success of the Europe 2020 strategy, as well as the state of the European economy, depend, to a large extent, on small and medium-sized enterprises reaching their full potential. Currently, there are approximately 23 million SMEs in the European Union, which employ around 67% of the total number of private sector workers.

The Small Business Act (SBA) constitutes the framework of the EU’s policy aimed at strengthening SMEs, thus allowing them to grow and create jobs. During the period 2008-2010, the Commission and the EU’s Member States implemented the measures set out in the SBA in order to reduce administrative burdens and to provide SMEs with easier access to finance and to new markets. In the words of Commissioner Tajani: ‘SMEs represent more than 99% of all businesses and employ more than 90 million people in Europe. They are the driving force of our economy and must be kept strong, competitive and innovative. The Member States must act quickly to ensure that the Small Business Act is fully implemented’.

Even though most of the initiatives contained in the SBA have already commenced, the review of its implementation to date concludes that more intensive efforts are needed to assist SMEs and that the European Commission should be more focused on the pursuit of measures which provide support to SMEs in the European Union.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing.(DE) Three years ago, the EU once again announced that it was going to pay closer attention to small and medium-sized enterprises. Once again, however, there was no consistent planning. Immediately after the initiative got under way, the economic crisis hit SMEs particularly hard. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s ever tighter regulations, in particular, are strangling the financial air out of poorly capitalised small and medium-sized enterprises. The EU study into high growth potential for SMEs in markets outside the EU and the adapted strategy promised for the end of the month are sure to make little to no difference when it comes to the fundamental issues. Not only are these enterprises being choked by the paralysis of economic growth as a result of the sovereign debt crisis; there is also no trace of the promised cuts in red tape. If 99% of European businesses, which, furthermore, are also the largest employers – and that is precisely what the SMEs are – are only able to tap 10 to 15% of European funding, it is high time that the EU’s system of subsidising conglomerates and multinationals were changed by repatriating the supporting body. The promised cuts in red tape and a re-think in connection with the Basel reforms also need to be evident before the SME sector runs out of financial air.

 
  
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  Csanád Szegedi (NI), in writing.(HU) Hungarian consumers are witnessing an increasingly sad state of affairs. What they see and experience is very depressing. What they see is that their local shop, where they have been buying their bread and daily necessities, closes overnight. And the same goes for the local butcher and clothes shop.

It is a general phenomenon in Hungary and Eastern Europe that small and medium-sized enterprises go out of business in quick succession. On the other hand, multinational companies, receiving excessive financing from taxpayers’ money, are thriving. On weekends, they almost turn into sacral halls, siphoning customers from family businesses.

This is why I think that the EU should turn its focus urgently on small and medium-sized enterprises, while they still exist, rather than allow multinational companies to benefit from tax incentives. The EU should provide prioritised funding to family businesses, which, according to Jobbik, are the token of our recovery from the crisis. The prioritised funding of family businesses would have a positive impact not only on the economy, but also on society.

 
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