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Procedure : 2011/0417(COD)
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Texts tabled :

A7-0193/2012

Debates :

PV 12/09/2012 - 17
CRE 12/09/2012 - 17

Votes :

PV 13/09/2012 - 11.10
CRE 13/09/2012 - 11.10
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes
PV 12/03/2013 - 10.4
CRE 12/03/2013 - 10.4
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2012)0346
P7_TA(2013)0071

Debates
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17. European Venture Capital Funds - European Social Entrepreneurship Funds (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the joint debate on:

– the report (A7-0194/2012) by Sophie Auconie, on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on European Social Entrepreneurship Funds (COM(2011)0862 - C7-0489/2011 - 2011/0418(COD)) and

– the report (A7-0193/2012) by Philippe Lamberts, on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on European Venture Capital Funds (COM(2011)0860 - C7-0490/2011 - 2011/0417(COD)).

 
  
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  Sophie Auconie, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, this evening we are examining two important texts, two proposals for a regulation, one on the European Venture Capital Fund and the other on the European Social Entrepreneurship Fund. The objective is simple: to establish a European label.

As regards entrepreneurship, it is one tool among a number of provisions. In any event, I hope that the Commission will take ownership of entrepreneurship, which is a driver of growth, and that it will consider a number of provisions, mechanisms and tools associated with social entrepreneurship. I am going to let my colleague Mr Lamberts speak on venture capital.

I would like to speak on two matters. Firstly, what are the issues raised in this text? Secondly, why are we voting on it tomorrow in plenary?

First of all, as regards the issues raised in this text, what is the aim pursued? The aim is twofold: to foster the development of social investment and also to diversify the funding sources of social undertakings.

What is a social undertaking? The principle objective of a social undertaking is to achieve a positive social impact. It is, for example, to ensure that its human resources, its collaborators, include vulnerable or marginalised persons. A social undertaking is one whose objective is to support social activity. Today, these undertakings are mainly financed through grants. We all know that Member States and communities will find it harder and harder to support funding through grants. Therefore, these undertakings see their future compromised, at a time when they need sustainable growth and to bring about innovation. We must help them to find other sources of funding so that we can improve our social market economy. In this respect, I must point out that social entrepreneurship accounts for 10% of European undertakings and 11 million employees. The social investment market is already very active in a number of Member States which are experiencing high levels of growth, but it is, unfortunately, very fragmented.

At a time when the world of finance is so reviled, I find it satisfying that this text is able to demonstrate that profit is not the be all and end all for this world of finance, and that finance can and must play a major role in the social economy and the real economy.

I would like Mr Barnier to know how much I welcome this proactive approach. Traditionally, the Commission had a relationship of regulation and control with finance, which was appropriate. Today, we are committed to a proactive approach, the aim of which is to give an impetus to put finance at the service of the real economy. I am grateful to the Commission for adopting this approach.

Why are we voting on this text tomorrow in plenary? We worked actively on it this summer. My objective was twofold. It was to obtain accessibility and security, because this label must be open and accessible, but not at any price and not to just anyone.

Today, we reached agreement in the trialogue – I am sorry for taking slightly longer than my allotted time, Mr President, but the issue is a little complicated – and I will ask my colleagues to support this agreement tomorrow.

I hope that the Council will follow us immediately when we have adopted this regulation. I would remind you that it is a true driver of economic growth and a vehicle for inclusion and progress for our society.

 
  
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  Philippe Lamberts, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, friends of culture, good taste and venture capital, good evening. How good it feels to be among friends in the Chamber in Strasbourg – such an intimate place – this, still summer, evening. Thank you to the many members of the public for being here, and for coming to applaud the performance of the two rapporteurs.

Joking aside, the issue of venture capital is important because it is a fact that, in the EU today, we need investment. Our economy has been hijacked too often these last 30 years, both publicly and privately, by, essentially, consumption and speculation at the expense of value-added investment.

It is in this context that venture capital plays an important role, especially in driving innovation. It must be recognised that, in the EU, we have a process of innovation that is, without doubt, excessively regulated. What we have, therefore, is top-down innovation, where the objectives set by the Commission or by the Member States, for example, stimulate innovation. This can be distinguished from the American model of bottom-up innovation, where people risk both their money and their reputation on innovations, not all of which succeed – far from it. However, this is a model we would do well to draw on, not to simply adopt it but to achieve a better balance between top-down innovation, which is guided by regulation, bottom-up innovation, which is guided by investment, and innovation I would characterise as autonomous, which is guided by the market and stakeholders on the ground.

It is not easy to encourage venture capital because, first of all, it is, of course, a question of culture. If, in Europe, we have a culture that is just a tad allergic to risk, it is clear that this will not change overnight. Nevertheless, it is good to do whatever we can to remove regulatory obstacles or, rather, to establish mechanisms that encourage venture capital. In this context, the Commission proposal to create a European venture capital funds passport, which is to some extent a guarantee of quality and also a guarantee of access to the entire internal market, is a good idea.

From that point of view, the issue should have been simple, and it was. The negotiations were quite speedy. In the end, there were not many points of divergence between us. One of the issues was whether or not it was necessary to have a system of depositaries with a view to protecting the consumer. We, rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs, decided together that venture capital is perhaps an area where, in fact, we want to encourage risk, with investors who know a bit about the risks they are taking, and that, when addressing professionals, concern for consumer protection can become a sideshow to considerations of efficiency. We therefore abandoned the system of depositaries to finalise an agreement in short order on 28 June which was welcomed by the three partners: Parliament, the Council and the Commission. Furthermore, I would like to thank the Commission for helping us to reach an agreement in relatively short order.

Then, I was surprised to discover, five or seven days later, I do not remember – I am sure Ms Auconie will remind me – almost via a rumour, that the Council had reneged on its agreement. At this point I would like to say that, in terms of procedure, it is unacceptable. It is possible to realise that one has gone too far in negotiations, that too many concessions have been made and so on, but an agreement is an agreement. When an agreement has been reached, when it has been announced and welcomed, well then, it is honoured. That is what we are going to do tomorrow, when we vote on this text. I therefore call on Parliament not to try to outsmart the Council, that is to say to reverse its original positions and to act as if it were going to recommence negotiations. No, we are faithful to the procedure we have gone through and the agreement we have reached, and it is in these terms, in these exclusive terms, that we will proceed to the vote tomorrow. I therefore encourage you to support us in this and I hope that I will hear a lot of encouragement in this respect from the many members of the public who are present.

 
  
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  Karel De Gucht, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, honourable Members, I welcome the opportunity to say a few words this evening on these two important subjects of venture capital and social entrepreneurship on behalf of my colleague, Mr Barnier, who was unable to join you this evening due to the informal Economic and Financial Affairs (ECOFIN) Council which will take place in Cyprus tomorrow. At this moment, therefore, he must be somewhere in the skies above us.

Ladies and gentlemen, in recent years there have been too many signs suggesting, rightly or wrongly, that finance was an activity serving the financial stakeholders personally instead of moving the economy forward as a whole. It is up to us to reverse this trend and to use every means available to us to improve the financing of companies. This is a crucial step towards economic recovery and sustainable growth.

Since April 2011 and the adoption of the Single Market Act by the Commission, important steps have been taken to boost the competitiveness of our enterprises, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs – by way of reminder, there are almost 22 million in the EU – are the backbone of the EU economy and of its capacity to innovate and create jobs. However, unlike other regions of the world, the European Union has been late in detecting and encouraging these champions of tomorrow through a sustainable, growth-oriented funding framework, that of venture capital. These growth drivers are badly needed today, especially in new technologies.

Similarly, enterprises that pursue so-called ‘social’ objectives have huge potential for sustainable growth, which we need. These enterprises create a social link thanks to their policy of inclusion in favour of the most disadvantaged citizens, in particular by enabling many people who are out of work to return to employment. The pursuit of social, ethical and environmental objectives can generate positive external effects for a country. They can also help revitalise some of our regions.

The debate we are holding today falls fully within this context. Finance must once again serve the real economy, which innovates and creates jobs. Europe has financial resources; it even has one of the highest savings rates in the world. These savings must be channelled towards sectors with the greatest need and, primarily, towards the SMEs operating in these sectors.

That is why the Commission has proposed establishing a new legislative framework for European venture capital funds and social entrepreneurship funds. Through these proposals, these funds will be able to obtain a single marketing authorisation, valid throughout Europe, which will enable them to collect money far more easily from investors.

We are very grateful to the rapporteurs, Mr Lamberts and Ms Auconie, and to the shadow rapporteurs for the work they have done on both these issues. Many technical questions were resolved quickly under the Danish Presidency, and we are satisfied with the political agreement reached on the last day of this Presidency. We welcome the spirit of cooperation and compromise which made it possible.

Today, therefore, there is broad agreement between the Council and Parliament in the many areas covered by these two reports. However, there is one outstanding issue, that of tax havens. I am fully at one with you in the fight against tax havens. I believe that these types of tax systems are a major problem which must be resolved as a matter of urgency.

However, I also believe that these two proposals cannot be the hostages of a single issue. When there is agreement on practically all of the content and when the disagreement relates solely to a very specific element, all means must be deployed to break the stalemate. All of us in this House are aware of the time we would lose and that companies would lose if we went to second reading. I would therefore urge you to pick up the thread of the discussions with the Council as soon as possible on this last point. The Commission is ready to facilitate a new compromise on this.

From our perspective, an envisageable solution could be constructed on four pillars. First, the inclusion in the instrument, that is to say in the very text of the directive, of a clause reproducing an existing article of the Alternative Investment Fund Managers (AIFM) Directive. This clause, which makes reference to the OECD Model Tax Convention, has already been accepted by the Member States. Second, the retention of the existing recitals on tax havens. Third, a Commission declaration on the establishment of harmonised standards for the identification of tax havens. Fourth, the mention of a revision clause in the regulations by which the Commission undertakes to promote, if necessary, additional measures to ensure that venture capital funds and social entrepreneurship funds are not domiciled in tax havens.

The Commission has always been committed to ensuring compliance with international law on taxation and will continue to fight against all forms of tax evasion. With its draft declaration on tax havens, it wishes to clearly reaffirm its principles and its utter resolve. However, today, it is essential that we undertake to move forward rapidly towards the adoption of both these texts, because the ultimate aim is to facilitate the funding of SMEs.

Today, we can send a strong signal to all economic stakeholders to show them that Europe has understood the extent of the problems and is there to propose solutions.

 
  
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  Pervenche Berès, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. (FR) Mr President, I am going to speak on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs on the report by Ms Auconie on a proposal to support European Social Entrepreneurship Funds.

Last week, the President of the Commission, Mr Barroso, in an excellent conference organised by Commissioner Andor, emphasised that the European social model was an element of EU competitiveness and that social entrepreneurship clearly formed part of this. The proposal we have on the table is therefore welcome.

However, I think that we must ensure – and that was the subject matter of the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) – that, through these social entrepreneurship funds, we do not create new niches in financial markets. I have to say that, from this point of view, we have two concerns.

We had asked in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs that the issue of social housing be treated specifically, and I think that that would have been valuable.

Finally, I have to say that the response from the Commissioner representing Commissioner Barnier on the establishment of such funds in tax havens is, in my view, problematic, as, once again, it is not a question of creating new niches or nouveaux riches but of fostering a new, highly promising sector, that of the social market economy, through social entrepreneurship.

 
  
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  Dimitar Stoyanov, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs.(BG) Mr President, the actual fact that this two-report package is being proposed in this manner – special entrepreneurship and venture capital – shows that despite everything Europe will always appear peculiar to the rest of the world, namely in that it sees operating with large capitals primarily as an opportunity to develop its social activities.

Unfortunately, in my Member State – Bulgaria – it is as if the companies which have a social element disappeared during the transition. They disappeared as communism disappeared from Bulgaria. I personally have had business relations with a company employing people with impaired hearing, and I know how important it is to these people that they have an opportunity to work, be employed and earn their own living, instead of relying only on benefits and other social instruments.

This is why I feel that adopting the report on the Social Entrepreneurship Funds is a big step forward and, as I said, tying this package together truly shows the European continent’s social face.

As for the Venture Capital Funds with regard to which I was also a rapporteur on the committee asked for an opinion, I can say that I am considering this in relation to the Commission’s promises for better financial regulation, for better financial discipline to prevent potential financial speculations in the future, thus for me this is also an important step forward.

In conclusion, I will say that I see that the committee responsible has elaborated the legal committee’s proposals we made in the report, therefore, I believe that we, as a committee, did our job, namely to assist the committee responsible, directing it towards the areas it has elaborated in our proposals.

 
  
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  Danuta Maria Hübner, on behalf of the PPE Group. Mr President, that Europe needs growth and growth requires investment, which in turn cannot occur without funding, is not a surprising statement. Unfortunately, we face this challenge of growth and investment at a time when Europe’s small and medium-sized enterprises are suffering from a funding deficit and when lending conditions have seriously deteriorated as a result of the crisis.

But the challenge is all the more demanding because Europe’s SMEs need to invest in knowledge-based undertakings, innovation and new sources of growth that can create sustainable jobs and upgrade the competitiveness of the European economy. Here the solution is a major push towards developing venture capital. This is a front on which Europe is seriously lagging behind the US. Venture capital is crucial for young enterprises, particularly in the early years of their development when, despite innovative plans and strong growth potential, they struggle to find the necessary funding. Moreover, venture initiatives can also provide companies with valuable expertise and knowledge, business contacts and strategic advice.

The regulation we are debating today aims to address Europe’s growth funding deficit through an EU-wide venture capital passport. This regulation can provide a much-needed boost to kick-start some of the main drivers of growth. It is vital, therefore, to get the venture capital legislation working as soon as possible. I recommend that the House supports the compromise reached with the Danish Presidency and that negotiations continue towards a successful first reading.

 
  
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  Saïd El Khadraoui, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (NL) Mr President, I would like to start by thanking the rapporteurs, Ms Auconie and Mr Lamberts, for the valuable collaboration we have enjoyed over the past few months. We, as the S&D Group, can support what is currently on the table: it is a good compromise.

This morning, we heard from Mr Barroso in his State of the Union address that we need to do everything we can to foster economic growth. Of course, we fully support this move. Investing in innovative companies with venture capital and social economy projects through social investment funds can make a difference. Developing such passports constitutes a modest, yet effective contribution towards that goal. After all, it will provide a framework that can give investors confidence and it can contribute – and you have mentioned this yourself, Commissioner – to making greater use of the available savings in the real economy. This will lead to investment in young innovative enterprises and the social economy.

The text that we will be voting on is a step forward on various points. There will be a passport for the funds in question and better protection for investors. It is a balanced package that came about after a series of difficult negotiations with the Council. We were therefore very surprised and disappointed that the agreement reached, which had even been officially communicated by the previous Danish Presidency, could not be finalised by the Cyprus Presidency within the time given. As a result, a number of countries had time to organise opposition and politicians blocked the agreement. These circumstances mean that although we will be able to vote on the agreement reached tomorrow, we will not be able to have a final vote at this stage.

I want the Commissioner to know that we appreciate that the Commission is coming up with proposals to push forward a compromise, but, to be honest, I think the ball is now in the Council’s court. Quite honestly, we have a deal that we have finalised and accepted and we are willing to approve it. I think that the Council should be consistent on this matter. After all, the crisis is more prominent than ever and goes far beyond these two proposals.

My question is: do we, as the European Union, think it is normal to be working with a definition of tax havens that is riddled with holes? Will the fight against tax fraud at European level remain merely a verbal battle or are we actually going to tackle it effectively? We as Parliament need to stick to our guns on that point.

 
  
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  Olle Schmidt, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(SV) Mr President, Commissioner, I would like to say a big thank you to the two rapporteurs, Ms Auconie and Mr Lamberts, for their excellent work. The Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe is in favour of the proposals on both venture capital funds and social entrepreneurship funds. With these proposals we are making it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to obtain finance. That has already been said here, but it is not enough to say it just once; in view of the problems Europe is experiencing it is worth pointing it out several times.

It is also important to increase the competitiveness and growth potential of small and medium-sized enterprises. Venture capital investments can be a very valuable alternative to bank financing. In order to support the most promising start-up undertakings, the investments made by the venture capital funds need to be larger and more diversified, and the funds need to promote innovation. Social entrepreneurship in the EU must be strengthened, particularly in these times of crisis.

We welcome the idea that managers of venture capital funds and social entrepreneurship funds should be able to use a quality mark, a European passport, to market their funds throughout the EU. This has been shown to work really well in other contexts. Introducing a single set of rules throughout the EU is important. That will reduce unnecessary problems and red tape. It will facilitate investment and entrepreneurship on the internal market. Certain burdensome and unnecessarily bureaucratic rules, such as the requirement for a depositary, have been dispensed with in the compromise with the Council. I think that is a good thing. I think we have found the right balance, and this really will be able to facilitate investment for Europe’s small and medium-sized enterprises.

The question that remains then is that of tax havens. I hope that we can find a solution. I would like to finish by saying that I think it is a pity that questions concerning taxes, including those relating to the issue of tax havens, cause such division.

 
  
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  Sven Giegold, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Ms Auconie, we have worked very well together in Parliament on this report. We have made improvements to what was already a good proposal from the Commission, finally establishing a financial instrument that specifically supports the social economy.

It is not hard to achieve agreement on the fact that some of the bureaucratic red tape included there should be removed: for example it should also be possible to provide larger loans, as required for the construction of social housing, for example, or to deliver assistance to institutions that do not operate in the social economy in the EU, but rather in developing countries, so that these funds, when they are finally introduced – can also help the world’s most vulnerable.

We have also been able to ensure that some criteria are worded with greater clarity, for example that it is necessary to prove the companies receiving investment from this fund have a genuine social benefit, so that these funds do not become a cheap label that people can use, even though in reality there is no social economy dimension to their business. This fund is a rational instrument within the framework of the Commission’s broader initiatives for the social economy, as currently promoted by Mr Barnier and Mr Tajani. That makes sense.

The icing on the cake would be if the positive outcome we have now achieved with the Commission were also to be worthwhile for the businesses. The only thing standing in the way here is the Council, which is absent from this debate yet again and which refuses to include a reasonable definition of tax havens in the provisions for this fund. The fact that funds like this, which have a social benefit, are not to be diverted to tax havens is something that goes without saying. This also applies to European venture capital funds. It is scandalous that the Council should allow initiatives that promote growth and the social economy to fail over an issue like a European definition of tax havens.

 
  
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  Kay Swinburne, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, the Commission’s proposals for both the European Social Entrepreneurship Fund and the European Venture Capital Fund as part of the EU action plan are important to help SMEs access more financial resources across the whole of the EU.

These two reports have been specifically drafted to encourage investment in these important sectors. The EU passport for these two brands will allow cross-border business and investment and thus channel money into areas that we know are vitally important to economic growth as well as simultaneously benefiting our whole society.

We all agree that stimulating growth, particularly in the SME sector, is intrinsic to our economic recovery. The committee negotiations have been carried out in an inclusive spirit which has continued into the trialogue discussions. It is therefore a shame that negotiations have deteriorated. I believe that all political groups are keen to see successful implementation of these two reports. It is therefore a pity that this has been stalled with the addition of a topic that many argue is not immediately essential to the EU Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship Fund debate.

The global issue of tax evasion and the definition of tax havens, especially in light of the global economic situation, must be addressed. There is widespread acknowledgement of this and indeed the Commission has promised to come up with specific proposals. It is not standard practice, however, nor indeed Parliament’s right, to set tax policies within the Financial Services Regulation. Whatever our aspirations, we must be careful that we do not cause more harm than good.

Of course we should look at tax havens, but at the right time with the right people on the right dossiers. There is a strong majority in the Council against the addition of Article 3. Our priority surely should be to pass these two reports without delay, taking full advantage of the agreements and improvements that the Parliament has already successfully negotiated in trialogue. We can then address tax evasion in the appropriate manner following Commission proposals. If we are serious about stimulating growth, we must allow this legislation on the Social Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Funds to come to fruition.

 
  
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  Claudio Morganti, on behalf of the EFD Group.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the aims of these two funds – helping small businesses and social entrepreneurship – are certainly important and worthy of our support.

I am very familiar with the second of these areas, as I have often been involved with disability associations, and my position as vice-chair of the Disability Intergroup in this Parliament has led me to listen to a large number of proposals and demands in this field. Thousands of bodies operate in this sector and help produce roughly 10% of GDP across Europe, while providing jobs for over 11 million people. As we must all realise, these are significant figures that have not only a valuable social impact but also major consequences for Europe’s entire economy.

Even more than other kinds of business, social undertakings always find it difficult to obtain credit, perhaps because it is thought – unfairly – that they cannot give sufficient assurances. In fact, though, they are often highly efficient and economically competitive. Nevertheless, it is important to remain extremely vigilant and to check carefully that these instruments are used only where there is a genuine need. Even in this field there can be speculation and interests that deviate from the real objectives for which these funds have been developed.

In this respect, the criteria for allocating these funds should be made much clearer, as I would not like to see them transformed into a potential new mechanism for fraud, at the expense of both Europe and the social undertakings themselves, not to mention all those people, including people with disabilities, who have considerable opportunities in this sector and expect a lot from it.

In the past, grants from the European Social Fund, for example, were used in Italy for completely different purposes from those that were initially proposed. It is absolutely disgraceful that there are people who speculate in this sector instead of helping others who have major difficulties.

To conclude, I reiterate my support for these initiatives, provided due attention is given to ensuring they are properly implemented.

 
  
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  Marie-Christine Vergiat, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (FR) Mr President, I would like to speak this evening as Vice-Chair of the Social Economy Intergroup.

Two texts are currently under discussion in Parliament, one on the social entrepreneurship initiative, which will be examined in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) next week, and another, which we are examining this evening. It is far from satisfactory that we are examining the second before the first, which is much more general.

From this point of view, it seems to me that the definition of social enterprises presented to us today is too restrictive. I hope that it will be able to put a stop to attempts at social ‘washing’. However, once again, it reduces social enterprises, in particular those of the social economy, which are its main component, a little too much to the single issue of the most vulnerable. The stakeholders in the social economy who manage partnerships and not capital enterprises are hoping to see other signs from the European institutions, in particular the recognition that their status is different from that of capital enterprises.

As you have said, Commissioner, we still have a lot to do to make up lost ground in relation to these champions of tomorrow, these enterprises which are not obsessed with simply maximising their profits.

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE).(HU) Mr President, Commissioner, I would like to make it clear at the outset that we need more venture capital in Europe. After all, private capital investors are actively seeking out opportunities, for example in my home country, Hungary. At the same time I must also note that the managers and owners of enterprises often have a cautious attitude towards this form of financing. In order to support the most promising start-up enterprises, venture capital funds need to be enlarged and their investments diversified. I believe that the aim of the two proposals put forward today and of these two funds is precisely to facilitate the development of this budding market.

One of the reasons why I believe this is that on one hand, in the middle of the current crisis where lending to the real economy is on a decline, enterprises can have an extremely difficult time obtaining loans. On the other hand, I agree with the Commission that enterprises undertaking long-term investments and possessing venture capital are more successful than enterprises that are forced to rely on short-term bank financing. Thirdly, larger venture capital funds not only mean larger volumes of capital available to individual enterprises but also allow for specialisation in specific sectors. I am convinced that venture capital can help small and medium-sized enterprises increase their competitiveness. I am hopeful that we will be able reach an agreement at first reading, and I will, of course, support this with my vote.

 
  
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  Sari Essayah (PPE). - (FI) Mr President, my thanks go to the rapporteurs, Ms Auconie and Mr Lamberts, who have done an excellent job in connection with these proposals for regulations.

I would particularly like to raise the issue of investment in social enterprises, the main aim of which is not to make a profit, but to develop those businesses whose activities are extremely valuable for society as a whole. In many Member States these companies are legally obliged to operate in exactly the same environment and according to the same rules as other enterprises, even though it is certainly far more difficult for them to attract financing and investment for their business. Often a social enterprise is fundamentally a business that is based on an organisation, a foundation or voluntary work, and which needs capital for it to operate. I believe that this Rrgulation will boost confidence in social entrepreneurship funds and among investors in them, and enhance the reputation of such funds.

As has been mentioned here, we should not be naïve; good intentions will not prevent attempts at abuse, and that is why it is important to support proposals to stop abuse of funds of this sort or distortion of competition between different funds. For the sake of greater confidence, we also need to investigate openly loopholes in connection with tax evasion and tax havens.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, I welcome the Commission’s proposal aimed at providing increasingly greater support to promoting access to finance. In this regard, venture capital funds have a particularly important role in the economy, encouraging growth and job creation. In addition, they foster the establishment and expansion of innovative undertakings, thereby supporting innovation and competitiveness. They respond to the challenges currently facing most Member States.

In this context, I would like to emphasise the importance of laying down a common framework of rules as soon as possible. This will allow for reducing the obstacles against the proper functioning of the internal market and eliminating the distortion of competition. European venture capital funds contribute substantially to promoting the access of SMEs to finance.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE).(RO) Mr President, unfortunately, we are going through a period when the primary objective of business start-ups is to obtain immediate and substantial profits. The regulation of European social entrepreneurship funds is a great opportunity for those entrepreneurs whose primary objective is to achieve social impact, which unfortunately has been less and less targeted lately.

However, I am concerned about the risk that the leverage outlined in the report and insufficiently explained in detail might be used for inappropriate purposes. Therefore, I think we need to focus our efforts on drafting a regulation that is as comprehensive as possible, providing specific protection and control rules in order to fully eliminate any possibility of misuse of these funds, which have enormous potential for social progress.

 
  
 

(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Karel De Gucht, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, honourable Members, in order to promote the emergence of an economy that is geared more to the citizens, that is to say a more innovative and socially inclusive economy, it is essential to strengthen the conditions under which enterprises that pursue objectives that are not only economic but also ethical and environmental access funding. That is why we must ensure that these two instruments – venture capital funds and social entrepreneurship funds – can be made available to our enterprises as soon as possible.

I have listened to all the concerns you have raised today, including your position on the possibilities of reaching a compromise on the issue of tax havens. I will certainly pass on your considerations to my colleague, Mr Barnier, who is at your disposal, as are his services, to find a satisfactory and timely solution.

We remain convinced that it is possible and necessary to adopt both these reports at first reading.

 
  
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  Sophie Auconie, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I would like to thank, in their presence, all the shadow rapporteurs and then, of course, my colleague Mr Lamberts, because we have worked very constructively in a cross-party review that has been full of conviction, and we have achieved an entirely satisfactory result. Thanks to all of you.

I would like to remind you, in this conclusion, that one in four enterprises in the EU is a social enterprise. I would like to remind you that the social investment market is worth EUR 1 billion. Mr Lamberts, there are not many of us here in this Chamber, but I am certain that many entrepreneurs, in particular social entrepreneurs, are watching us live on Parliament’s website. I would like to say to them, and to all of you here, that social entrepreneurship is not a niche and that the European label represents genuine added value for Europe if we define it responsibly.

As you have said, Commissioner, today we need to improve funding for social enterprises and we must not be hostages of a single issue. As we have all demonstrated, a second reading would be a real waste of time.

I will therefore ask all my colleagues, in a very socially inclusive manner, to support me and to support the agreement reached in the trialogue in the session and during the vote tomorrow. I hope, then, that the Council will take our lead to ensure that this regulation is adopted quickly. It is, I would remind you, a driver of growth for our economy and a vehicle for inclusion and progress for our society.

I ask all my colleagues to vote overwhelmingly in favour of the agreement reached in the trialogue.

 
  
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  Philippe Lamberts, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, I should first of all address the Council but, on occasions such as these, it is never here. It is therefore rather difficult to negotiate like that of course. Therefore, I am going to address you to tell you that we must make sure that we do not distort reality.

We have an agreement. It is not that there remains a small obstacle to an agreement; we have an agreement. Simply, one of the two parties did not keep the promise it had made in public. There is therefore a real problem of confidence between the negotiating partners. I am sorry, these things are just not done.

They may have realised in retrospect that they had gone too far, that they had made too many concessions, but it was a matter for them. It was for them to prepare and manage their negotiations properly. If they are incapable of doing so, that is their lookout. That is what it is like in business. If you are outsmarted because of poor negotiating skills, that is the price you pay. The Council spurns this House too often to be passed the sponge and to be told, ‘We understand that you have messed up a bit, so we are going to discuss it again’. No! I am in favour of an agreement at first reading. Well, it is very easy. If we want an agreement at first reading, we keep our word, they keep theirs and that is it, end of story. If they want to do something else, it is going to be expensive, it is going to be hard and it could go on and on. You are going to say that it will take an important issue hostage. Yes, of course. It is not the first time either that the Council has taken Parliament hostage on other issues. They must stop abusing our trust, because I find that unconscionable.

As for the compromise proposals, the Commission, always disposed to put forward proposals, is clearly recognisable and I very much welcome that. I just want to say that the Alternative Investment Fund Managers (AIFM) clause is exactly what we did not want. The AIFM clause is a paper tiger! Today, according to the OECD, there is no longer any jurisdiction on their black list. You are in Liechtenstein? You are ‘clean’! You are in the Cayman Islands? You are ‘clean’! You are ‘clean’ throughout the world! There are no tax havens any more. We no longer have to fight against tax havens. It is precisely to avoid this situation that we want to establish in an article – and not just in recitals – serious standards on tax havens.

They must stop making us empty promises just to please us, telling us, ‘Look, we are working hard to combat tax havens’. This kind of cinema is over.

I would like to thank Ms Auconie and the many shadow rapporteurs who are here. In any event, we worked well together, and we intend to continue to do so. It is therefore not just a Green telling you that it is going to be hard if the Council persists, it is the entire Parliament telling you.

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 13 September 2012.

(The sitting was suspended for a short time)

 
  
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  Jaromír Kohlíček (GUE/NGL), in writing. (CS) Social enterprise is a theme which may be very important for addressing mass unemployment - which is one of the EU’s key problems - not only in the current crisis but also in the future. Social enterprises are exclusively small and medium-sized enterprises, and their mission reflects a strong emphasis on sustainable development, or development that supports the inclusion and resolution of the EU's social problems. This means that investments in social enterprises should have a greater positive social impact than general investments in small and medium-sized enterprises.

The aim of the proposed regulation is to create a legislative framework adapted to the needs of social enterprises. It focuses on a clear elucidation of the properties that distinguish social enterprise funds from the broader category of alternative investment funds. Only funds that fulfil these characteristics are eligible for resources as social enterprise funds on the basis of the proposed European framework. It introduces unified requirements for the administration of entities identified as a European social enterprise fund, for investment portfolios, investment techniques and the eligible enterprises on which they can focus. Unified rules make it possible to utilise a valid certificate of registration for European social enterprise funds throughout the EU. Issues of transparency are also resolved. Investments are directed towards social return or a positive social impact. Funds must be supported with corresponding tax rules in the EU. The concept of social enterprises forms part of the programme of the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, which therefore supports it.

 
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