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Procedure : 2013/2711(RSP)
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PV 17/04/2014 - 9.15
CRE 17/04/2014 - 9.15
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Thursday, 17 April 2014 - Strasbourg
Commission follow-up to the 'TOP TEN' Consultation of SMEs on EU Regulation

European Parliament resolution of 17 April 2014 on the ‘top ten’ consultation process and lightening the burden of EU regulation on SMEs (2013/2711(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the European Charter for Small Enterprises, adopted by the European Council at its meeting in Feira on 19 and 20 June 2000,

–  having regard to Commission Recommendation 2003/361/EC of 6 May 2003 concerning the definition of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises(1),

–  having regard to the Commission report of 23 November 2011 entitled ‘Minimising regulatory burden for SMEs – Adapting EU regulation to the needs of micro‑enterprises’ (COM(2011)0803),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 23 February 2011 entitled ‘Review of the “Small Business Act” for Europe’ (COM(2011)0078),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 3 March 2010 entitled ‘Europe 2020 – A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ (COM(2010)2020),

–  having regard to the Commission proposal of 30 November 2011 for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises (2014-2020) (COM(2011)0834),

–  having regard to the European Council conclusions of 14 and 15 March 2013 and the Competitiveness Council conclusions of 26 and 27 September 2013,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 18 June 2013 entitled ‘Commission follow-up to the “TOP TEN” Consultation of SMEs on EU Regulation’ (COM(2013)0446),

–  having regard to Commission communication of 7 March 2013 entitled ‘Smart Regulation – Responding to the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises’ (COM(2013)0122) and the accompanying staff working document entitled ‘Monitoring and Consultation on Smart Regulation for SMEs’ (SWD(2013)0060),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 2 October 2013 entitled ‘Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT): Results and Next Steps’ (COM(2013)0685),

–  having regard to its resolution of 23 October 2012 on ‘Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs): competitiveness and business opportunities’(2),

–  having regard to its resolution of 5 February 2013 on improving access to finance for SMEs(3)

–  having regard to Rules 115(5) and 110(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas enhancing support for the competitiveness, sustainablility and employment potential of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is a horizontal effort that cuts across different policy areas;

B.  whereas SMEs suffer disproportionately from unnecessary burdens as their capacity is limited, and whereas the EU legislators have therefore committed to the ‘think small first’ principle;

C.  whereas, 20,7 million SMEs employ over 65 % of the existing private-sector workforce and whereas SMEs are among the most innovatory enterprises, with the best performance in terms of job creation and economic growth;

D.  whereas, according to a Eurobarometer survey, 74 % of Europeans believe that the EU generates too much red tape;

E.  whereas almost one third of the administrative burden deriving from EU legislation stems primarily from disproportionate and inefficient national implementation, meaning that up to EUR 40 billion could be saved if the Member States transposed EU legislation more efficiently;

F.  whereas enterprises can generate employment provided that the right conditions are met, including administrative simplification, access to finance, skills, knowledge and qualified manpower and support for their innovative efforts;

G.  whereas SMEs are often at a competitive disadvantage compared with large industrial players in terms of taxation, standardisation, public procurement, intellectual property, research and innovation financing;

H.  whereas the Commission has scrapped 5 590 legal requirements in the past five years, reducing costs for business by more than EUR 27 billion;

I.  whereas the Commission is pursuing regulatory and administrative effectiveness via its REFIT programme, impact assessments, competitiveness proofing, fitness checks, the ‘top ten’ consultation process, the SME scoreboard and the SME test;

J.  whereas, as highlighted by the European Council, regulation at Union level is necessary in order to ensure that EU policy goals, including the proper functioning of the single market, are attained;

K.  whereas Parliament has declared on a number of occasions, for example in its aforementioned resolution of 23 October 2012, that simplification of EU regulations should not interfere with fundamental EU requirements relating to health and safety at work, fundamental EU workers’ rights or fundamental principles of EU environmental legislation;

L.  whereas most of the ‘top ten’ legislative measures identified in the Commission communication on this subject were already under way when the communication was issued; whereas some of the legislative proposals had already been presented at the time of the ‘top ten’ consultation, and whereas some of them are now already closed;

M.  whereas administrative obstacles prevent SMEs from fully exploiting the benefits of the single market;

N.  whereas this resolution will not comment on the individual follow-up actions, as that will be done separately, but instead focus on the working method applied by the Commission;

1.  Welcomes the Commission’s ‘top ten’ initiative as part of the REFIT exercise and takes note of the promise that this is not a one-off effort but should be a regular part of an ongoing screening procedure; stresses, however, that the Commission should accelerate its efforts to address the concerns about regulatory burden raised by SMEs during the consultation process; stresses also that the ‘top ten’ approach must not replace a systematic, horizontal policy approach to minimising the administrative burden stemming from EU regulation, or undermine the objectives and effectiveness of the legislation in question;

2.  Underlines the need, therefore, for the ‘think small first’ principle to better inform Union policies as regards innovation, growth, internationalisation, productivity, bureaucracy reduction, the quality of human resources, and social responsibility;

3.  Welcomes also, in this connection, the commitment by the Commission to adopt ‘smart regulation’ as an integral part of the decision-making cycle and specifically to regard REFIT as a rolling programme that will be updated annually;

4.  Calls on the Commission, as a matter of urgency, to step up its efforts to ensure that SMEs, especially innovative ones, are encouraged to flourish through administrative simplification and the provision of targeted support in all policy areas;

5.  Calls on the Commission to conduct SME tests transparently and properly when developing legislation; believes that exempting micro-enterprises by default is not the right approach, and supports the development of adapted solutions and lighter regimes for SMEs where it can be demonstrated that they do not foster fragmentation or hinder SMEs’ access to the internal market;

6.  Calls on the Commission to simplify excessive administrative formalities, while at the same time retaining necessary provisions that ensure safety, health and protection at work or require companies to provide their staff with a suitable working environment;

7.  Urges the Commission and the Member States to ensure easy access to funding and markets and to reduce the regulatory burden, which constitutes one of the greatest obstacles to the creation and development of small and medium-sized enterprises;

8.  Considers it very important for the Member States to implement Directive 2011/7/EU on combating late payment in commercial transactions, which states that, with regard to commercial transactions between enterprises and public authorities, the contractual payment period must not exceed the limits laid down in Article 4(3) thereof, unless otherwise expressly agreed in the contract and provided that this is objectively justified in the light of the particular nature or features of the contract and in any event does not exceed 60 calendar days;

9.  Welcomes the fact that from now on the Commission will integrate the SME scoreboard into an annual REFIT scoreboard; considers this to be a step in the right direction if it further embeds SME requirements into the wider regulatory simplification exercise, without undermining the effectiveness of legislation or adding additional layers of bureaucracy; asks the Commission to streamline these instruments via a comprehensive impact assessment; stresses, however, that this amalgamation should not in any way dilute the specific attention accorded to SMEs by the Commission in its processes;

10.  Underlines the fact that the planned annual scoreboard should effectively record legislative and implementation-related progress at EU and national level with regard to SMEs; believes that this scoreboard will help SMEs to assess the costs of the administrative burden stemming from legislation at EU or national level, and allow for easier monitoring, thus facilitating constructive participation by SMEs in future consultations;

11.  Stresses, however, that any ex post evaluation would be easier if the ex ante assessments were carried out properly and took all dimensions into account; believes that the impact assessment culture of all the European institutions should be improved, in particular where SMEs and self-employed people are affected by EU legislative proposals; calls on the Commission to assess the added value of granting more independence and powers to the impact assessment board; recommends, furthermore, that Parliament make greater use of its impact assessment and SME testing facilities, e.g. before introducing substantial changes to Commission proposals; calls on the Commission to publish an annual statement of the total net cost to business of new proposals;

12.  Believes that burdens arising from new proposals should be offset by reductions of at least a similar size;

13.  Invites the Commission and the Member States to develop a web-based application enabling the administration concerned to indicate whether, and to what extent, SMEs are affected by upcoming legislation, along the lines of the German Mittelstandsmonitor, which indicates by means of a simple traffic light system whether SMEs are very likely (red), likely (yellow) or unlikely (green) to be affected by upcoming legislation;

14.  Welcomes the Council’s request, in its conclusions of 14 and 15 March 2013, for further action to reduce the overall regulatory burden at both EU and national level;

15.  Considers it regrettable that SMEs have not, as yet, managed to tap into the potential of the single market, and recalls that only 25 % of SMEs in the EU-27 are exporters; calls on the Commission and the Member States to work together to improve the integration of the single market, and to do more to share best practice in relation to simple paperwork and achieve better regulatory cooperation across the Member States; welcomes the conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) at the ninth WTO ministerial conference of December 2013 and hopes the agreement will facilitate greater opportunities for trade, particularly for SMEs; welcomes, in this connection, the Commission’s intention to propose a standard VAT declaration and believes that any standardisation of VAT declaration forms should be no more complicated than the most simple form it replaces;

16.  Encourages the Member States to mirror the REFIT and ‘top ten’ exercises being undertaken at EU level and to ensure that the administrative and regulatory burden is also eased for SMEs at national level; stresses, further, that Member States can be particularly effective in reducing the regulatory burden on SMEs by avoiding gold‑plating when transposing European directives into national legislation; urges the Member States to use the option of reducing unnecessary burden for SMEs in those areas in which legislation allows it;

17.  Stresses that Member States can be particularly effective in alleviating the administrative burden on SMEs and avoiding overregulation when transposing European directives into national law; urges the Member States to ease formalities for SMEs where this is authorised under EU legislation;

18.  Welcomes the introduction of the SME test, while regretting the fact that only a few Member States have included it in their national decision-making processes;

19.  Recalls its position on general exemptions of micro-enterprises from EU legislation, as laid down in its aforementioned resolution of 23 October 2012, according to which exemptions should only be applied where a proper SME test is able to demonstrate, on a case-by-case basis, that the specific needs of micro-enterprises cannot be addressed by means of adapted solutions or lighter regimes; stresses that exemptions for micro‑enterprises often carry the risk that SMEs may be subject to a patchwork of national laws which foster fragmentation and hinder their access to the internal market;

20.  Welcomes the fact that the Commission has extended the mandate of the High Level Group on Administrative Burdens (HLGAB) until October 2014, as requested by Parliament in its aforementioned resolution of 23 October 2012 and as provided for by the COSME programme;

21.  Notes the conclusion from the SMEs’ responses to the ‘top ten’ consultation process that the Working Time Directive is complex and inflexible and in many cases requires SMEs to acquire specialised legal assistance which is costly; calls on the Commission to produce its detailed impact assessment as a matter of urgency;

22.  Recommends that, in order to reduce the burdens arising from health and safety legislation, where possible a light-touch regulatory regime should be employed for low-risk companies;

23.  Recommends that REACH fee rates for SMEs and micro-enterprises be proportionate;

24.  Asks the Commission to accelerate all processing of REACH applications and, in particular, to fast-track applications from SMEs and micro-enterprises; invites the Commission to provide SMEs and micro-enterprises with suitable guidance to help them submit successful applications;

25.  Considers the ‘top ten’ consultation process to be a useful exercise, and its results to constitute an important signal from SMEs and the organisations representing them; calls on the Commission to continue this exercise on a regular basis through Eurobarometer; notes, however, a significant imbalance in the geographical distribution of responses to the ‘top ten’ consultation process; invites the Commission to carry out an ex post evaluation of the reasons behind such an imbalance, so as to ensure that the information collected is not skewed by a lack of awareness or other factors that may have distorted the feedback collected;

26.  Expects the next Commission to maintain responsibility for ‘smart regulation’ as one of the competences of the President’s office, and encourages it to enhance the role of the SME envoys; urges the Commission, accordingly, to ensure that national SME organisations form part of the recently established network of SME envoys and that the SME Assembly is duly informed of EU initiatives;

27.  Insists that the next Commission should establish a European objective of a 30 % reduction in the costs to SMEs generated by administrative and regulatory burdens by 2020;

28.  Warns of the risks to local and regional competitiveness and individual entrepreneurship if efforts to reduce gold-plating result instead in an increase in maximum harmonisation or one‑size‑fits‑all legislation;

29.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1) OJ L 124, 20.5.2003, p. 36.
(2) OJ C 68 E, 7.3.2014, p. 40.
(3) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2013)0036.

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