Procedure : 2008/2237(INI)
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Document selected : A6-0074/2009

Texts tabled :

A6-0074/2009

Debates :

PV 09/03/2009 - 18
CRE 09/03/2009 - 18

Votes :

PV 10/03/2009 - 8.19
CRE 10/03/2009 - 8.19
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2009)0100

REPORT     
PDF 365kWORD 264k
18 February 2009
PE 413.994v02-00 A6-0074/2009

on Small Business Act

(2008/2237(INI))

Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

Rapporteur: Edit Herczog

Rapporteurs for opinion (*):

Gunnar Hökmark, Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs

Martí Grau i Segú, Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection

(*) Associated committees – Rule 47 of the Rules of Procedure

ERRATA/ADDENDA
MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION
 EXPLANATORY STATEMENT
 OPINION of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (*)
 OPINION of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (*)
 OPINION of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs
 OPINION of the Committee on Culture and Education
 OPINION of the Committee on Legal Affairs
 OPINION of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality
 RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on a "Small Business Act" for Europe

(2008/2237(INI))

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the Commission Communication of 25 June 2008 entitled "Think Small First" - A "Small Business Act" for Europe (COM(2008)0394) and the accompanying Commission staff working document on impact assessment (SEC(2008)2102),

–   having regard to its resolutions of 30 November 2006 on Time to move up a gear - Creating a Europe of entrepreneurship and growth(1) and of 19 January 2006 on implementating the European Charter for Small Enterprises(2),

–   having regard to the 2715th Competitiveness Council Conclusions of 13 March 2006 on SME policy for growth and employment, and to the 2891st Competitiveness Council conclusions of 1 and 2 December 2008,

–   having regard to the opinion of the Committee of the Regions of 12 February 2009,

–   having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 14 January 2009,

–   having regard to the 2008 good practice selection of the European Charter for Small Enterprises,

–   having regard to the Commission staff working document of 25 June 2008 entitled European code of best practices facilitating access by SMEs to public procurement contracts (SEC(2008)2193),

–   having regard to the Commission Communication of 8 October 2007 entitled Small, clean and competitive - A programme to help small and medium-sized enterprises comply with environmental legislation(3),

–   having regard to the Commission Communication of 16 July 2008 on the Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan (COM(2008)0397),

–   having regard to the Commission Communication of 16 July 2008 entitled An Industrial Property Rights Strategy for Europe (COM(2008)0465),

–   having regard to the opinions of the High Level Group of Independent Stakeholders on Administrative Burdens of 10 July 2008 in the priority area of company law, and of 22 October 2008 on the reform of the rules on invoicing and electronic invoicing in Directive 2006/112/EC (VAT Directive),

–   having regard to Rule 45 of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and the opinions of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, the Committee on Culture and Education, the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (A6-0074/2009),

A. whereas the 23 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the EU, accounting for around 99% of all enterprises and providing over 100 million jobs, play a fundamental role in contributing to economic growth, social cohesion and job creation, are a major source of innovation and are vital for sustaining and expanding employment,

B.  whereas SMEs have to be placed at the heart of all Community policies to enable them to develop and adapt to the demands of globalisation, to participate in the knowledge triangle and to adapt to environmental and energy challenges,

C. whereas despite previous European Union initiatives, there has been little or no tangible improvement in the business environment for SMEs since 2000,

D. whereas the overwhelming majority of SMEs are micro enterprises, craft businesses, family businesses and cooperatives which are the natural incubators of entrepreneurial culture and therefore play an important role in enhancing social inclusion and self-employment,

E.   whereas SMEs are not provided with sufficient support to defend themselves against unfair commercial practices that are conducted cross-border, such as those of misleading business directory companies,

F.  whereas, despite their differences, Europe’s SMEs face many of the same challenges in realising their full potential, in areas such as relatively higher administration and compliance costs than larger enterprises, access to finance and markets, innovation and the environment,

G. whereas, as a key contribution to achieving an SME-friendly environment, the perception of the role of entrepreneurs and risk-taking has to change: entrepreneurship and the associated willingness to take risk should be applauded by political leaders and the media, and supported by administrations,

H. whereas SMEs, when initiating their processes of internationalisation, have to deal with specific problems, such as lack of international experience, scarcity of experienced human resources, a highly complex international regulatory framework, and the need to introduce changes in organisation and business culture,

I.   whereas Parliament has frequently noted with regret the lack of binding legal force of the European Charter for Small Enterprises which has undermined its genuine implementation and that of its 10 recommendations which have, for the most part, gone unheeded; whereas it consequently requested the Council to look into that matter, in its above-mentioned resolution of 19 January 2006,

General

1.  Supports warmly the above-mentioned Commission's Communication of 25 June 2008, which aims to drive an ambitious policy agenda to promote SMEs’ growth through the 10 guiding principles and to anchor the “Think Small First” approach in policy-making at all levels;

2.  Regrets, however, that the Small Business Act (SBA) is not a legally binding instrument; considers that the truly innovative aspect of it is its intention to place the ‘Think Small First’ principle at the heart of Community policies; calls on the Council and the Commission to join Parliament in the effort to establish this principle as a binding rule, in a form to be determined, in order to ensure that it is properly applied in all future Community legislation;

3.  Emphasises the absolute necessity of implementing the 10 guiding principles at European, national and regional level; calls therefore on the Council and the Commission to make a strong political commitment to ensure proper implementation; urges the Commission and the Member States and to work in close cooperation with all relevant stakeholders to define the priorities and urgently implement, in particular at national level, the SBA Action Plan adopted by the Competitiveness Council on 1 December 2008, ensuring that all parties involved gain effective ownership of the guiding principles;

4.  Calls on the Commission to further enhance the visibility and awareness of SME-related policy actions through the bundling of existing Community instruments and funds for SMEs under a separate heading in the EU budget;

5.  Is strongly convinced that it is vital to introduce a follow-up mechanism to monitor the proper and speedy implementation of those policy initiatives which have already been launched; therefore calls on the Council to embed the actions to be taken at the level of Member States in the Lisbon process and to inform Parliament annually on the progress made;

6.  Calls on the Commission to set up a screening system for the monitoring of the progress achieved following implementation of the 10 guiding principles by the Commission and Member States; calls on the Commission to establish standard evaluation criteria for assessing the progress made; calls on the Member States to incorporate their first progress reports in their upcoming annual reports on the national reform programmes;;

7.  Stresses the need to place particular emphasis on craft, family, micro- and individual enterprises at EU, national and regional level and urges the Commission and the Member States to take regulatory, administrative, fiscal and life-long learning measures specifically targeted at these enterprises; also calls for the acknowledgement of the specific characteristics of members of the liberal professions and the need to treat them in the same way as other SMEs except where this contradicts the existing law governing these professions; highlights the important role of SME associations for traders, craft businesses and other professions; calls on the Commission and the Member States to work together to improve the business environment for these industries and the legal framework for their professional and industry associations;

8.  Considers that the Commission's proposals lack a clear strategy for self-employed persons to improve their legal status and rights, particularly if their position is comparable with salaried employees; calls on the Commission to guarantee self-employed persons the right to agree standard tariffs, to organise themselves, and to conclude collective agreements, if their counterpart is a large principal with a dominant position, provided that this does not harm less powerful potential clients and does not cause market distortions;

9.  Urges the Commission and the Member States to provide targeted promotion measures and individual support such as information, advice and opportunities to access venture capital for business start-ups in the SME sector;

10. Emphasises the need to develop a social and economic model that creates an appropriate security network for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs in the creative sector, where unstable working conditions are often encountered.

11. Notes with regret that women face difficulties in establishing and maintaining businesses owing to factors such as information gaps, lack of contacts and access to networking, gender discrimination and stereotyping, weak and inflexible supply of childcare facilities, difficulties in reconciling business and family obligations, as well as differences in the way women and men approach entrepreneurship;

12. Applauds the proposed introduction of a network of female entrepreneur ambassadors, mentoring schemes for women to set up their own businesses, and the promotion of entrepreneurship among female graduates; draws, however, attention to the fact that many enterprises are still gender-segregated, which is, and will for a long time be, a very serious problem, since as long as women are discriminated in the labour market, the EU loses able workers and entrepreneurs and as a consequence loses money; therefore believes that even more money should be invested in projects to endorse female entrepreneurs;

13. Stresses that female entrepreneurship helps to attract women into the labour market and to improve their economic and social status; regrets, nonetheless, that there is a continuing gender gap in this area, in particular as regards pay, despite the strong interest shown for women, and that the percentage of female entrepreneurs in the EU still remains low, partly as a result of the unacknowledged (for example, unpaid) and yet important contribution made by women in the day-to-day running of family small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);

14. Urges the Commission and Member States to take into account the creative and cultural sector as a driver of economic and social development in the European Union – with a share of 2.6% of the GDP and 2.5% of the EU workforce; emphasises the importance of SMEs in stimulating the ICT sector and the creative industry;

15. Emphasises that the creative sector is dominated by SMEs and is especially important in terms of safeguarding sustainable regional employment;

16. Welcomes the Commission’s planned introduction of a directive on reduced VAT rates for labour-intensive and locally supplied services, which are primarily provided by SMEs; stresses however that it must not lead to a distortion of competition and must not be ambiguous as to the services which are covered

17. Notes the need to ensure that SMEs have the ability to buy small, buy green and buy local, thus becoming more climate friendly and efficient;

18. Welcomes the swift adoption of the general block exemption in respect of state aids, and of measures on the statute for a European private company and on reduced VAT rates;

19. Welcomes the Commission proposal to reduce VAT rates for locally supplied services; calls on the Commission to take further action to relax state aid rules to encourage the provision of public procurement opportunities to local companies, in particular to local SMEs;

20. Supports the idea to extend until 2012 the current exemption from the EU competition rules on state aid of film production and considers this as a great support to creative SMEs;

21. Supports the new state aid rules laid down in Commission Regulation (EC) No 800/2008 of 6 August 2008 declaring certain categories of aid compatible with the common market in application of Articles 87 and 88 of the Treaty (General block exemption Regulation)(4) for exempting, under certain conditions, SMEs from notification rules;

22. Notes that, despite the clear commitment made in the European Charter for Small Enterprises, the voice of SMEs remain muted within the context of the social dialogue; urges that this deficit is formally corrected by appropriate proposals within the context of the SBA;

23. Sees a need, in the framework of the SBA, for greater emphasis to be given to the area of labour law, especially in view of the concept of flexicurity, which enables SMEs in particular to respond more quickly to changes in the market and therefore to guarantee a higher level of employment and the competitiveness of the company, including its international competitiveness, while taking into account the necessary social protection; in this connection refers to its resolution of 29 November 2007 on flexicurity(5);

24. Furthermore, stresses the importance of labour law, especially in view of how its application to SMEs can be optimised, for example through better advice or the simplification of administrative procedures, and calls on the Member States to devote special attention to SMEs in connection with the specific approaches they adopt to flexicurity, including through active labour market policies, since SMEs have scope for greater internal and external flexibility owing to their low staffing levels but also need greater security for themselves and their workers; considers it essential that labour law, as one of the main pillars of flexicurity, provides a reliable legal basis for SMEs given the fact that these businesses often cannot afford a legal department or a human resources management department; points out that, according to Eurostat, 91.5% of European companies employed fewer than 10 people in 2003;

25. Considers it necessary to introduce measures to combat undeclared work, which is indisputably a source of unfair competition for highly labour-intensive SMEs;

26. Invites Member States to increase in the mainstream economy the inclusion of SMEs owned by underrepresented ethnic minorities, by developing supplier diversity programmes which aim to provide equal opportunities to underrepresented businesses competing with larger undertakings for contracts;

27. Underlines the importance of a statute for a European Private Company as a new, additional legal form; provided that it is focused on SMEs that intend to engage in cross-border activities and cannot be abused by larger companies, to undermine and circumvent legal provisions in the Member States that foster a system of corporate governance that takes into account the interests of all stakeholders;

28. Calls on public authorities, on the basis of the principle that access to information is a precondition for obtaining information itself, and considering the importance of the Internet as a vehicle in this regard, to simplify institutional websites as far as possible to enable users to pinpoint and better understand the support mechanisms being offered;

Boosting R&D and innovation

29. Stresses the importance of innovation for SMEs and the difficulties in taking advantage of research opportunities; considers that national academies of science and research institutes could play a role in driving innovation and reducing barriers to research for SMEs; believes that the focus should not only be on high-tech innovation, but that low and middle level of technology and informal innovation should also be considered; considers that the European Institute for Innovation and Technology could have an important role in boosting R&D and innovation for SMEs; calls upon Member States to multiply initiatives that lower the threshold for SME’s to have access to research; is convinced that all Community research and technological programmes should be designed in a way that facilitates the cross-border participation of SMEs;

30. Supports the Commission’s initiative to improve access to the Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration activities (2007-2013)(6);

31. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to put in place better framework conditions aimed at creating an environment favourable to innovation by SMEs, in particular by introducing ways to improve the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) and to fight against counterfeiting more effectively throughout the European Union; believes that well-balanced rules on IPR can offer protection whilst ensuring the flow and exchange of information and ideas; emphasises that SMEs need support to access IPR protection, uphold these rights with the assistance of the relevant IPR authorities and also use their IPR to attract finance;

32. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to demand that their commercial partners apply the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) more strictly and to make whatever efforts may be necessary for the adoption of bilateral, regional or multilateral agreements to combat counterfeiting and piracy, such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA);

33. Takes the view that the full potential of e-commerce for SMEs is not yet fully exploited and that there is still much to be done to achieve a Single European Electronic Market for products and services where SMEs could play a leading role in the further integration of the EU markets;

34. Considers that the participation of SMEs in clusters must be promoted in order to boost innovation and increase the competitiveness of the EU economy; calls therefore on the Commission to support the improvement of cluster management, notably through the exchange of best practices and training programmes, to design and disseminate tools to assess the performance of clusters, to promote inter-cluster cooperation, and to further simplify administrative procedures for the participation of clusters in EU programmes;

35. Calls for the SBA to take account of cooperative arrangements among SMEs (buying and marketing groups), since such groups have been shown to be less at risk of insolvency than individual enterprises;

36. Is strongly convinced that patents play an important role in innovation and economic performance, since they enable innovators to capture the returns from innovative investments and provide the necessary security for investment, equity and loans; is therefore of the opinion that a swift agreement should be reached on a Community Patent ensuring low-cost, efficient, flexible and high-quality legal protection, adapted to the needs of SMEs, as well as on a harmonised European patent litigation system;

37. Stresses the need to promote innovative and pre-commercial public procurement, since it leads to added value for contracting authorities, citizens, and participating undertakings; calls on Member States to increase the share of innovative public procurement and the participation of innovative SMEs public procurement procedures; calls on the Commission to facilitate the dissemination of best practices in this field, for example regarding tender criteria and procedure and arrangements for risk and knowledge sharing;

38. Takes the view that for international public procurement, where new technologies allow for cross-border e-commerce, new forms of, for example, combinatorial auctions for SME-consortia and online publication and advertising tenders allow for significant increases of procurement trade not only within the European Union but globally to encourage cross-border e-commerce;

39. Draws attention to the need for sufficient technical and skilled personnel; therefore, believes that more investment is needed in education and that the links between educational institutions and SMEs should be strengthened, so that the promotion of self-employment, entrepreneurship culture and business awareness is included in the national education curricula; encourages the further extension of individual mobility schemes such as „Erasmus for young entrepreneurs" and „Erasmus for apprentices", in particular in relation to female participation; supports the envisaged extension of the scope of the Leonardo da Vinci programme and the creation of a European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training; urges the Member States, in collaboration with social partners and training providers, to set up work-based vocational and occupational (re)training and lifelong learning programmes specifically tailored to SMEs’ needs that will be co-financed by the European Social Fund; calls on the Commission to facilitate exchange of best practices in innovative training and measures to reconcile work and family life and to promote gender equality;

40. Stresses the importance of encouraging young entrepreneurs and female entrepreneurs through, amongst other things, the introduction of tutoring and mentoring programmes; points out that an increasing number of women and young entrepreneurs work in SMEs, albeit primarily still in the smallest businesses (micro-businesses), and remain vulnerable to the adverse effects of stereotyping and prejudice in connection with business transfers and successions, especially in the case of family businesses; calls therefore on Member States, taking account of the impact of the ageing population, to implement suitable policies and mechanisms, in particular by introducing diagnostic, information, advisory and support tools for business transfers;

41. Points out that the Seventh Framework Programme contains a financial risk sharing mechanism which should enable access to be facilitated to loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for large-scale projects; calls on the Commission to assess SME recourse to that mechanism, and consequently to introduce any necessary proposals;

42. Welcomes the launching of a single European network integrating the services currently provided by Euro Info Centres (EIC) and Innovation Relay Centres (IRC) in order to support SMEs in all their innovation and competitiveness efforts through a wide range of services;

43. Calls on the Commission to assess SME participation in the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme(7) and to bring forward any necessary proposals;

Ensure funding and access to finance

44. Points out that the main source of funding for SMEs in Europe comes from their own activity and from credits and loans from financial institutions; notes that SMEs are perceived as higher-risk which hampers their access to finance; calls for a combined effort on the part of financial institutions, the Commission and the Member States to ensure SMEs’ access to finance and to offer them the possibility of consolidating their capital by reinvesting their profit in the company; believes that payment of charges prior to SMEs’ commencing activities should not be required in order to ensure that they are able to build up their own funds and resources; in this respect, points to the urgency of the current financial situation and the need for immediate action;

45. Calls on the Commission and Member States to step up their efforts to promote and provide information on the existence of European funds and state aids intended for SMEs, and to make these two instruments both more accessible and more easily understandable;

46. Calls on the Member States to create better conditions allowing SMEs to invest in skills training, not least through direct tax cuts and compensation arrangements between tax authorities and the European Union;

47. Recognises that the Member States' taxation system can be a deterrent to the transfer of businesses, in particular family businesses, increasing the risk of liquidation or closure of the company; calls, therefore, on Member States to review carefully their legal and fiscal framework to improve the conditions for transfer of businesses, especially in cases of owner retirement or illness; is convinced that such improvement will facilitate the continuation of the activities of businesses, in particular family businesses, preservation of jobs and reinvestment of profit;

48. Is very satisfied with the recent alignment between the cohesion policy and the Lisbon Strategy; believes that by directing regional funds more towards entrepreneurship, research and innovation, considerable funds could become available at local level to enhance business potential;

49. Stresses that dynamic financial markets are essential for the financing of SMEs and underlines the need to open up European risk capital markets by improving the availability of and access to venture capital, mezzanine finance and micro-credit; for this reason considers that, in normal circumstances, SMEs should have access to credit provided by actors on the capital markets that can assess their prospects and cover their needs more effectively;

50. Supports the decision taken by the Council and the EIB to adopt a series of reforms to broaden SME finance products by the EIB group as well as offer a substantial development of its global loans to its banking partners, both in quantitative and qualitative terms;

51. Stresses that SMEs’ limited ability to access finance is a major impediment to their creation and growth; in this respect, welcomes the European Council's decision to boost by additional EUR30 000 million the EIB funding available for guarantees and other financial instruments for SMEs; calls on the EIB to devise new forms of financial instruments and tangible new solutions to tackle the obstacles that collateral presents to accessing credit; also calls on the Member States, in the light of the current economic crisis, to encourage banks to guarantee SMEs access to credit on reasonable terms;

52. Applauds the recent initiative for a Joint Action to Support Micro-finance Institutions in Europe (JASMINE), which will be beneficial for business start-ups, and in particular will promote youth and female entrepreneurship; calls on Member States, in cooperation with SME organisations and lending institutions to take a proactive role in providing information on access to and application for microcredits and alternative forms of finance;

53. Emphasises the important role of the EIB and the European Investment Fund (EIF) in improving financing available to SMEs, particularly given the current financial turmoil and its repercussions on the credit market; invites the Commission and Member States to investigate further how current banking rules and other financial regulations, including the transparency of credit ratings, could be improved to ease access to finance for SMEs; calls on the Commission in cooperation with Member States and EIB to establish the right framework conditions for the development of a pan-European venture capital market;

54.    Points out that one in four cases of failure of SMEs is due to late payments, in most cases on the part of public administrations; emphasises that the present ´credit crunch´ may disproportionally affect SMEs as larger customers put pressure on smaller suppliers to grant extended payment terms; in this respect, welcomes the Commission’s proposal to review Directive 2000/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 June 2000 on combating late payment in commercial transactions(8) and calls on the Member States to improve the payment culture in their public administrations; urges the creation at Community level of a harmonised time limit for payments, possibly shortened for payments to SMEs, and penalties for exceeding this limit;

55. Welcomes the measures proposed in the SBA seeking to improve the supply of capital to SMEs; calls in particular, in the light of the financial crisis, for tried and tested state SME support programmes to be expanded and/or continued and for their support to be extended to financial intermediaries;

56. Notes the enormous potential of the EU Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme in correcting market failures in SME financing, in promoting eco-innovation and in supporting entrepreneurial culture;

Improving market access

57. Points out that standardisation can lead to innovation and competitiveness by facilitating access to markets and by enabling operability; calls on the Commission to improve access to standards for SMEs and their participation in the standardisation process; encourages the Commission to further promote Community standards internationally;

58. Stresses the importance of involving, as fully as possible, the Enterprise Europe Network, the national project management authorities, the chambers of commerce and industry and the public authorities in the promotion at local level of the opportunities offered by the EU programmes for research, development and innovation and by the EU Structural Funds, including the Community initiative on Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises (JEREMIE);

59. Notes that public procurement covers around 17% of EU GDP; calls on the Commission and Member States to strengthen SME access to and participation in public procurement by using the opportunities presented in the above-mentioned European code of best practices facilitating access by SMEs to public procurement contracts through inter alia:

–   making more use of e-procurement,

–   adapting the size of contracts,

   alleviating the administrative and financial burden in tendering,

–   providing relevant and proportionate qualification criteria in specific tenders,

–   enhancing access to information on public tenders for SMEs,

  harmonising required documents;

60. Encourages, furthermore, Member States to take the following steps:

–  to require contracting authorities to justify the non-splitting of contracts,

–  to extend the possibility of responding as a consortium to public calls for tender,

–   to make the requirement to pay advances general practice for all public procurement contracts;

61. Notes that there is a need for a system consultancy service that would assist the everyday operation of SMEs during their whole lifecycle with the aim of optimising their investments;

62. Considers that advanced e-business applications, based on the implementation of interoperable electronic signatures and authentication certificates, is a crucial driver of SME competitiveness and should be encouraged by the Commission and the Member States;

63. Underlines the importance of the internal market for SMEs, and notes that promoting SME access to the internal market should be a priority;

64. Recognises that there are still certain restrictions on the ability of SMEs to fully exploit advantages offered by the internal market; therefore notes that both the legal and political framework of the internal market should be improved to facilitate cross-border operation by SMEs; also notes that a clear regulatory environment would offer SMEs increased incentives to trade in the internal market; considers that Member States should set up single points of contact and web portals;

65. Underlines that improved information on market access and export opportunities within the Single Market is essential at both national and EU levels; calls therefore on Member States and the Commission to strengthen information and advisory services, in particular the SOLVIT problem-solving network;

66. Supports calls for the provision of advisory services by Member States to help SMEs defend themselves against unfair commercial practices, such as those of misleading directory companies, which should strengthen SMEs' confidence to operate cross-border; emphasises the importance of the Commission's role both in facilitating the coordination of, and in cooperating with, such advisory services to ensure the appropriate and efficient handling of cross-border complaints; insists, however, that in the event that such soft measures do not produce results, the Commission should be ready to initiate the appropriate legislative changes which would provide SMEs with similar protection to consumers where they are the weaker party in such transactions;

67. Points out that only 8% of all SMEs are involved in cross-border activities, which curtails possibilities for growth; considers that it is essential to boost the internal market; believes that Member States should cooperate in harmonising administrative requirements that affect intra-Community activities; calls on the Member States swiftly to transpose and implement the Services Directive(9) paying special attention to the interests of SMEs and also encourages the swift adoption of the statute for a European Private Company;

68. Believes that there should be a common consolidated basis for company taxation; calls for the establishment of a 'one-stop-shop' for VAT in order to make it possible for entrepreneurs to fulfil their responsibilities in the business country of origin;

69. Calls on the Commission to continuously enhance the framework requirements for the access of SMEs to foreign markets and to support the provision of information; encourages the setting up of European business support centres in China and India, and in all emerging markets, in close cooperation with national business support centres already operating there; because poor SME participation in cross border activities can also be explained by the lack of language skills and multicultural competences, greater means of action are needed in order to achieve this challenge; recalls nevertheless that SMEs need better access to information and qualified advice in their home country;

70. Stresses the importance of progress in trade negotiations which would further reduce regulatory barriers to trade, which effect SMEs disproportionately;

71. Calls on the Commission to include in its work programme the incorporation of equal treatment for SMEs in the rules of the WTO on access to public procurement contracts; calls on the Commission to pay particular attention to the problems encountered by SMEs with customs formalities, in particular by facilitating the adaptation of their computer systems as cheaply as possible to those used by national customs authorities, and by simplifying the arrangements for access to the status of economic operator;

Fighting bureaucracy and red-tape

72. Believes that there is an imperative need to cut red tape by at least 25% where possible and to put in place a modern administration adapted to the needs of SMEs; therefore, encourages the promotion of ICT knowledge among SMEs, in particular among young and female entrepreneurs, and the better use of digital technology to enable them to save time and money and to devote the resulting resources to their development; calls on the Commission and the Member States to take initiatives in order to exchange and promote best practices, set benchmarks, and elaborate and promote guidelines and standards for SME-friendly administrative practices; is convinced that it is also imperative in the near future to implement the proposals of the High Level Group of Independent Stakeholders on Administrative Burdens with a view to achieving the reduction target without risking access to finance for SMEs;

73. Believes that SMEs, and in particular micro-enterprises, should be taxed in a way that reduces administrative efforts as far as possible, in such a way as to facilitate the start-up phase and encourage innovation and investment throughout their lives;

74. Emphasises the fundamental importance of evaluating the impact of future legislative initiatives on SMEs; therefore calls for mandatory, systematic and targeted impact assessments for SMEs, a so called ‘SME test’, the results of which should be subject to an independent evaluation that should be made available to the EU legislative bodies; believes that specific attention should be paid to the impact, including the administrative burden, on small and micro enterprises; urges the Commission to apply the SME test to all new proposals for EU legislation affecting business including simplification of existing legislation and withdrawals of pending proposals; encourages Member States to introduce similar SME tests at national level;

75. Is of the opinion that any new legislation, for example to avoid delays in the field of payments, copyright, company law or competition law (such as the rules adopted to facilitate obtaining data litigation concerning anti-competitive behaviour or that arising from the State aid General block exemption Regulation(10)), should be formulated in such a way so as not to discriminate against SMEs but, rather, to support them and the provision of their services across the internal market;

76. Stresses the need for proper and timely involvement of SMEs in policy making; therefore, believes that the Commission’s consultation period should be extended to at least 12 weeks from the date on which the consultation is available in all Conmmunity languages; recognises the essential and valuable role of representative business organisations, therefore, calls on the Commission wherever relevant, to integrate SMEs and their representative organisations directly into advisory expert committees and high level groups;

77. Calls on the Commission to stimulate simplification and harmonisation of company law and, in particular, accounting rules within the internal market in order to reduce the administrative burden for SMEs and increase the transparency for all relevant stakeholders; urges the Commission to promote strongly the use of new technology such as eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) by presenting a roadmap for introducing XBRL reporting in the European Union with a view to making it mandatory within a reasonable time frame and to promote and support wide use of this open standard;

78. Encourages the setting up of a “statistics holiday” for micro enterprises, granting them temporary exemptions from mandatory statistical surveys, the broad application of the ‘only once’ principal with regard to information provided by undertakings to public authorities, and the further development of e-government;

79. Stresses the need for the introduction of common commencement dates for new Community legislation affecting SMEs; calls on the Member States and SME associations to inform SMEs concisely and comprehensibly of changes to legislation affecting them;

80. Encourages Member States in co-operation with SME organisations to set up, building on existing structures such as the Enterprise Europe Network and Europe Direct offices, national dedicated physical or electronic information contact points and support agencies for SMEs in line with the 'one-stop shop’ principle, offering access to various sources of information and support services, structured according to the life cycle of a business;

81. Recognises the difficulty of setting up a new business as a result of the diversity of systems established in the various Member States; therefore considers it necessary to establish a unified system for setting up businesses in which the process is carried out step-by-step and it is possible for a business to be created in 48 hours;

82. Reiterates that the financial rules governing Community programmes often still lead to unnecessarily bureaucratic, long and costly procedures particularly for the SMEs; calls on the Commission to revitalise the Observatory of European SMEs, to publish data on their participation in each Community programme, accompanied by a benefit analysis, and consequently submit proposals on increasing their participation; calls on the Commission to enhance the role and visibility of the respective SME designates in the different policy areas; furthermore, encourages all initiatives allowing the development of "SME spirit" in policy making within public authorities, such as the Commission's “Enterprise Experience Programme” which allows European civil servants to familiarise themselves with SMEs;

83. Deplores Member States' practice of 'gold plating', which is particularly harmful for SMEs, and calls upon the Commission to investigate what further measures might be taken to prevent it; calls for follow-up impact assessments, analysing how decisions are in fact implemented in Member States and at local level;

84. Calls for a special EU website for SMEs which shall contain information and application forms for EU projects, national telephone numbers, links to partners, trade information, information on research projects as well as internet consultation, briefings and information about new regulation;

85. Calls on the Commission to set up a working party in which Member States can exchange their national practices best tailored to the interests of SMEs, particularly regarding arrangements for obtaining support in preventing difficulties;

86. Welcomes the Best Idea for Red Tape Reduction Award for the public authorities that have delivered innovative red tape reduction measures at a local, regional or national level;

87. Calls for 30 days payment from EU cohesion funds to already approved projects, so as to assure the continued progress, survival and effect of these projects;

Turning sustainability into business

88. Recognises that efforts to improve sustainability could become an important source of (eco-) innovation and a key asset for industry's competitiveness; draws attention to the fact that SMEs are often not sufficiently aware of new energy efficient and environmentally friendly solutions or do not have the necessary financial resources to acquire them; therefore, invites the Commission to investigate how the Community could help SMEs to become more resource and energy efficient;

89. Reiterates the importance accorded to the corporate social responsibility of small-scale businesses, which necessitates horizontal links, networks and services; considers it ineffective to refer to the European Environmental Management and Audit system certification, both because this will detract from existing certificates, and because it links in solely with the environmental challenge;

90. Welcomes recent initiatives to assist SMEs in coping with environmental legislation, by inter alia granting them reduced agency fees, ensuring their access to information on environmental standards or introducing specific exemptions from Community legislation;

o

o       o

91. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.

(1)

             OJ C 316 E, 22.12.2006, p. 378.

(2)

              OJ C 287 E, 24.11.2006, p. 258.

(3)

              OJ C 4, 9.1.2008, p. 13.

(4)

OJ L 214, 9.8.2008, p. 3.

(5)

OJ C 297 E, 20.11.2008, p. 174..

(6)

OJ L 412, 30.12.2006, p. 1.

(7)

Decision No 1639/2006/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 2006 establishing a Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (2007 to 2013) (OJ L310, 15 9.11.2006, p.15).

(8)

OJ L 200, 8.8.2000, p. 35.

(9)

Directive 2006/123/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on services in the internal market (OJ L 376, 27.12.2006, p. 36).

(10)

Commission Regulation (EC) No 800/2008 of 6 August 2008 declaring certain categories of aid compatible with the common market in application of Articles 87 and 88 of the Treaty (General block exemption Regulation (OJ L 214, 9.8.2008, p. 3).


EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

The role of SMEs in Europe

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have for some time been recognised as the backbone of EU economy employing some 70% of its workforce and generating almost 58% of the business value added. Being the most dynamic and with highest capacity to innovate and grow and thus help realise the Lisbon objectives, SMEs have brought about the need to put them truly to the forefront of EU policy.

The hindered potential of European SMEs

SMEs in Europe, however, consistently underperform compared to their American counterparts and to larger companies particularly with regards to levels of productivity, growth and innovation. Explanations include a lack of entrepreneurial culture with 60% of Europeans claiming never to have considered the idea of setting up of their own business, while those who have ventured find that regulatory and financial constraints hold their businesses back. There is a further gap to be filled with a strong need for practical advice and concrete assistance from both the state and the EU on how to better grow their business and its prospects.

Finding a comprehensive solution - early steps ...

Consequently in 2005 as an integral part of the Lisbon Partnership for Growth and Employment(1), specific policies were developed to deal with many of the problems. Simultaneous to the actions at EU level, Member States (MSs) have taken important steps to integrate SME-specific measures in their Lisbon reform programmes. The major benefits of the current progress include the creation of a superior operational business environment for SMEs including a more effective regulatory culture taking root across Europe. This has already had a positive effect on economic growth.

However the 2007 Mid-term Review of the Modern SME Policy(2) concluded that there is room for further improvement. Some problems are currently not or only inadequately dealt with and there is a need for better coordination of existing policies.

... the rounded approach - the Small Business Act

As a consequence, the Commission adopted in June 2008 a communication on a Small Business Act (SBA)(3) in order to open up the way for unrestricted growth of SMEs by entrenching the ´Think Small First´ principle in policy making at all levels. Accompanied by series of legislative proposals and policy commitments by the EU and its MSs, the SBA seeks to create the necessary administrative, regulatory and financial conditions for the development of these key units of the EU economy.

Ten principles have been proposed to guide the conception and implementation of policies (at both EU and Member State level) aiming to:

1.  Create an environment in which entrepreneurs and family businesses can thrive and entrepreneurship is rewarded

2.  Ensure that honest entrepreneurs who have faced bankruptcy quickly get a second chance

3.  Design rules according to the "Think Small First" principle

4.  Make Public administrations responsive to SMEs´ needs

5.  Adapt public policy tools to SME needs: facilitate SMEs' participation in public procurement and better use State Aid possibilities for SMEs

6.  Facilitate SMEs' access to finance and develop a legal and business environment supportive to timely payments in commercial transactions

7.  Help SMEs to benefit more from the opportunities offered by the Single Market

8.  Promote the upgrading of skills in SMEs and all forms of innovation

9.  Enable SMEs to turn environmental challenges into opportunities

10.  Encourage and support SMEs to benefit from the growth of markets

It also includes a set of new legislative proposals presenting concrete action to aid European SMEs financial situation. These include:

· A General Block Exemption Regulation on State Aids

· Regulation providing for a Statute for a European Private Company

· Directive on Reduced VAT rates

· A proposal to further modernise, simplify and harmonise rules on VAT invoicing

· An amendment to the Directive 2000/35/EC on late payments

Rapporteur's appraisal

The rapporteur believes that the Small Business Act should be addressed to all SMEs. However, their diversity, specificities and varied needs should also be put into consideration. The particular situation and place in the value chain of the separate SME categories, such as crafts, micro, family enterprises, independent workers, liberal profession and all other sectors should be duly taken into account. She also emphasises that the SBA should not only target initiatives on the EU level but that those should be firmly supported by concrete measures on both Member State and regional levels.

In this respect, the rapporteur supports the Commission's initiative in putting forth proposals on a General Block Exemption Regulation on State Aids, a new Regulation on European Private Company Statute, a new directive on reduced VAT rates for locally supplied services, and an amendment to the Directive on late payments. The proposed actions are intended to support the implementation of the Lisbon Integrated Guidelines and the Community Lisbon Programme, by translating the Lisbon Strategy into concrete actions in favour of SMEs. In addition, your rapporteur welcomes two further initiatives by the Commission: the set up of European portal for SMEs and the first of its kind event - the planned for May 2009 European SME week.

Another important development with wide support is the announced increase in the volume of European Investment Bank (EIB) loans to SMEs and the planned measures to modernise and streamline EIB products. Among some of the key ones are:

· the initiative concerning micro-credit for the period 2008-2011;

· the creation of an instrument for mezzanine financing notably for fast growing, innovative SMEs;

· in relation to EIB loans for SMEs - the establishment of financial risk-sharing mechanisms with the commercial banks for their outstanding amounts for SMES;

Firm encouragement for further support for investment in the development of new products and services is essential as well as the introduction of new production processes, the acquisition of licences and other intellectual property rights, the building up of distribution networks in domestic or foreign markets and the financing of generation change within a company.

Family firms, whether small, medium or large, account for a high proportion of employment in Europe. They stimulate an entrepreneurial culture in Europe and provide a training ground for entrepreneurs of the future. They have strong enterprise ethics, uniting a long-term strategy for business with awareness of environmental and social responsibility. They foster entrepreneurial instinct at the family level, often acting as incubators for new companies.

Programmes and measures in the area of education policy must remain the responsibility of Member States. Employability should be the key and overriding objective. Experience from abroad is of vital importance for young entrepreneurs in the context of the current promotion schemes for SMEs and for this reason this objective should also be pursued at European level. In order to ensure the success of this new mobility programme for apprentices and young people, a long-term stable cooperation between enterprises, training centres and intermediate bodies (such as professional organisations, chambers, social partners etc.) needs to be established.

The rapporteur emphasises the necessity of further promotion and support for SMEs' cross-border activities within the European Single market. A significant increase in "export businesses" can be realised especially within the European markets.

Small enterprises need efficient intellectual property rights (IPR) protection to foster their innovation efforts and to protect them against unfair competition from outside the European Union. The EU should intensify the exchange of information as well as technical and political cooperation with problematic countries in this respect (China, India, Vietnam etc.). From the side of SMEs there is a very high need for information, which must be very concrete. As most SMEs that are active abroad do not have a representative there, it is essential that SMEs have access to the necessary information concerning foreign IPR protection in their home countries. However the main problems which SMEs face in gaining patents are the high costs of patent granting and litigation.

In Europe there are a number of barriers to the use of patents by SMEs. SMEs are approximately five times less likely to apply for a patent than large companies and are estimated to account for less than 20% of patent applications by EU firms at the European Patent Office. A major barrier for SMEs is the cost of patent applications and, in particular, the renewal fees. This is a particular problem when SMEs develop an area of technology. In those cases, they typically need to increase the number of patents to protect new uses and refinements of the technology, and to increase the geographical scope of their patent protection in order to enable international activities. All of that incurs substantial costs to smaller enterprises. Thus the rapporteur is of the opinion that the SBA must also include a new proposal to solve the long-lasting deadlock on a Community Patent including the proposal for one working language, English.

As SMEs often suffer from disproportionate administrative burden, inadequate access to information and an over-regulated business environment, your rapporteur believes that legislation needs to be clear and unambiguous. National governments should as much as possible refrain from “gold-plating”, which also hinders cross-border business development.

Last but not least, drawing from the principle that it is most beneficial for policy making to be as close as possible to the sphere and actors it affects, your rapporteur welcomes a programme by the European Commission which enables its civil servants to have an experience in European SMEs. Such an initiative should be spread in national and regional authorities.

(1)

Commission Communication: Implementing the Community Lisbon Programme Modern SME policy for Growth and Employment, (COM(2005)0551).

(2)

Commission Communication: Mid-term Review on the Implementation of the Modern SME Policy, (COM(2007)0592).

(3)

Commission Communication: Think Small First: A Small Business Act for Europe (COM(2008)0394).


OPINION of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (*) (15.12.2008)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on Small Business Act

(2008/2237(INI))

Rapporteur (*): Gunnar Hökmark

(*) Associated committee - Rule 47 of the Rules of Procedure

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions in its motion for a resolution:

1.   Underlines that the application of the "Think Small First" principle at Community, national and local level requires the consistent implementation of the internal market rules and the Services Directive(1)1 and an efficient and specific follow-up by the Commission and the Member States as part of the annual reports on the Lisbon Strategy in order to ensure that all obstacles are eliminated in accordance with those rules and in keeping with the needs of small enterprises; and calls for a horizontal inquiry regarding the conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), corresponding to the sector enquiries made by the Commission in regard to various business sectors, to be conducted with a view to facilitating fair and open competition for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) all over Europe, in close cooperation with their representative organisations; in that connection, emphasises that the Small Business Act introduces guidelines, which are designed to act as practical benchmarks, rather than binding rules;

2.   Stresses the key role of SMEs in Europe's economic and social fabric and the vital need for them to benefit from the opportunities offered by the internal market, demographic and technological change, and the challenges of the environment and globalisation, with a view to meeting the goals of the Lisbon Strategy;

3.   Stresses that a suitable policy of legislative simplification, reduction of overheads, elimination of administrative costs, introduction of new technology and operational facilitation should help boost the efficiency of SMEs and micro-enterprises, as well as promoting fairer competition on the internal market;

4.   Believes that the information to be supplied by SMEs and micro-enterprises to administrations, the public and the market should be in line with criteria of general interest and strict proportionality;

5.   Stresses the need to promote enterprise culture and a favourable business climate with a view to unleashing the full potential of SMEs;

6.   Calls for increased efforts to be made in implementing mutual recognition in order to facilitate the cross-border activities of SMEs; believes that there should be a common consolidated basis for company taxation; calls for the establishment of a 'one-stop-shop' for VAT in order to make it possible for entrepreneurs to fulfil their responsibilities in the business country of origin;

7.   Believes that SMEs, and in particular micro-enterprises, should be taxed in a way that reduces administrative efforts as far as possible, in such a way as to facilitate the start-up phase and encourage innovation and investment throughout their lives;

8.   Believes that the transfer of SMEs should be made easier, especially in cases of retirement or illness of the owner and transfer to relatives or heirs;

9.   Calls for better access for SMEs to public procurement through tenders designed in a way to make the utmost use of small companies as well as the opening up, where possible, of services to public tenders while preserving general interest and the principle of subsidiarity;

10. Stresses the need for the following in order to facilitate SME participation in public procurement: relevant and proportionate qualification criteria in the specific tender, the division of tenders into smaller lots, and access to tender information in order to enhance the transparency of tender procedures;

11. Acknowledges that the widespread use of late payments, also from publicly funded bodies, creates a large-scale problem for SMEs since they are vulnerable to variations in cash flow;

12. Welcomes the ongoing review of Directive 2000/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 June 2000 on combating late payment in commercial transactions(2) and insists that the SME perspective is taken fully into account, reducing the occurrence and the abuse of late payments would facilitate for SMEs to use the full potential of the internal market to greater effect;

13. Underlines the importance of a Statute for a European Private Company as a new, additional legal form; provided that it is focused on SMEs that intend to engage in cross-border activities and cannot be misused by larger companies, to undermine and circumvent legal provisions in the Member States that foster a system of corporate governance that takes into account the interests of all stakeholders;

14. Calls for an increase in funding for innovation within the scope of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and for better access for SMEs to such funding to be ensured via the European Institute of Innovation and Technology; calls on the Commission, furthermore, significantly to reduce red tape within the 7th Framework Programme in order to ensure better access for SMEs;

15. Urges Member States to direct more regional funds to research and development and to include SMEs to a greater extent in the respective programmes;

16. Stresses that dynamic financial markets are essential for the financing of SMEs and underlines the need to open up European risk capital markets by improving the availability of and access to venture capital, mezzanine finance and micro-credit; for this reason considers that, in normal circumstances, SMEs should have access to credit provided by actors on the capital markets that can assess their prospects and cover their needs more effectively;

17. Notes that no analyses have been carried out at Community level to measure the impact of the various forms of Community funding of SMEs and the benefits that SMEs have derived from that funding; reiterates its call that the Commission carry out such analyses; regards it as fundamental that the rules and procedures governing access of the various categories of SME to such forms of funding and the relevant programmes should be simplified to the greatest extent possible; to that end, calls on the Commission to hold talks with the organisations representing SMEs in an effort to eliminate the obstacles encountered;

18. Supports the decision taken by the Council and the European Investment Bank to adopt a series of reforms to broaden SME finance products by the EIB group as well as offer a substantial development of its global loans to its banking partners, both in quantitative and qualitative terms;

19. Calls on the Commission to find suitable ways of monitoring more effectively the use made by intermediary financial, banking or administrative bodies of Community funding intended for small enterprises and micro-enterprises, and to ensure that all the funding in question reaches those undertakings, within a reasonable time-frame;

20. Is of the opinion that any new legislation, for example to avoid delays in the field of payments, copyright, company law or competition law (such as the rules adopted to facilitate obtaining data in private suits taken out over anti-competitive behaviour or those arising from the State aid General block exemption Regulation(3)), should be formulated in such a way so as not to discriminate against SMEs but, rather, to support them and the provision of their services across the internal market;

21. Considers that the Commission's proposals lack a clear strategy for self-employed persons to improve their legal status and rights, particularly if their position is comparable with salaried employees; calls on the Commission to guarantee self-employed persons the right to agree standard tariffs, to organise themselves, and to conclude collective agreements, if their counterpart is a large principal with a dominant position, provided that this does not harm less powerful potential clients and does not cause market distortions;

22. Stresses the importance of progress in trade negotiations which would further reduce regulatory barriers to trade, which effect SMEs disproportionally;

23. Takes the view that all legislation concerning SMEs must be supportive of their growth and must not create artificial limits for their ability to take the lead in the development of European economy; in that context, stresses the need to take account of their diversity, in particular the diversity of the craft and small enterprises which make up 98 % of the economy of the European Union, drawing on assistance from their representative organisations and providing responses tailored to their specific needs; calls, therefore, for the 'SME test' to incorporate procedures such as cost-benefit analyses or the regular consultation of interest groups;

24. Calls on the Commission to stimulate simplification and harmonisation of company law and, in particular, accounting rules within the internal market in order to reduce the administrative burden for SMEs and increase the transparency for all relevant stakeholders; urges the Commission to promote strongly the use of new technology such as XBRL by presenting a roadmap for introducing XBRL reporting in the European Union with a view to making it mandatory within a reasonable time frame and to promote and support wide use of this open standard;

25. Stresses that the Small Business Act must aim to reduce hindrances for start-ups as well as for self-employed entrepreneurs while at the same time facilitating growth and the emergence of new businesses, providing means and opportunities for innovative processes and competitiveness in European industries;

26. Stresses that the planned introduction of a directive on reduced VAT rates for labour-intensive and locally supplied services must not lead to a distortion of competition and must not be ambiguous regarding which services are concerned;

27. Calls on the public administrations in the Member States to create, on a coordinated basis, offices to serve as 'one-stop shops' offering support services and exchange of best practices for SMEs;

28. Calls, to that end, for Community legislation to be drafted in such a way as to reflect the needs of the majority of enterprises and that this principle should be established as a binding rule, in a form to be determined, but one which would require Parliament, the Council and the Commission to ensure that the priorities inherent in the "Think Small First" principle are properly applied at Community level; calls for the intermediate representative organisations concerned to be directly involved in legislative processes at all levels; urges the Member States to implement this principle in national and regional legislation;

29. Calls for the Small Business Act to take account of cooperative arrangements among SMEs (buying and marketing groups), since such groups have been shown to be less at risk of insolvency than individual enterprises;

30. Deplores Member States' practice of 'gold plating', which is particularly harmful for SMEs, and calls upon the Commission to investigate what further measures might be taken to prevent it, including the introduction of a right of direct action for citizens; calls for follow-up impact assessments, analysing how decisions are in fact implemented in Member States and at local level;

31. Calls for the creation, on a structured basis, of mechanisms for dialogue, consultation and participation between SMEs and their representatives and the public authorities;

32. Calls on the Commission to draw up an annual report on SMEs, systematically presenting and commenting on the main data for the sector, with a view to establishing SMEs' situation, following their evolution and determining how far they are meeting the objectives set for the sector;

33. Calls on the Commission to add indicative timetables to the large number of actions proposed in the Small Business Act, in order to report annually on the achievements made and thereby ensure that progress is properly monitored.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE

Date adopted

11.12.2008

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

28

0

1

Members present for the final vote

Zsolt László Becsey, Pervenche Berès, Sharon Bowles, Udo Bullmann, Manuel António dos Santos, José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil, Robert Goebbels, Donata Gottardi, Louis Grech, Benoît Hamon, Wolf Klinz, Christoph Konrad, Sirpa Pietikäinen, John Purvis, Bernhard Rapkay, Heide Rühle, Antolín Sánchez Presedo, Olle Schmidt, Margarita Starkevičiūtė, Ieke van den Burg, Sahra Wagenknecht

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Mia De Vits, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Bilyana Ilieva Raeva, Theodor Dumitru Stolojan, Kristian Vigenin

Substitute(s) under Rule 178(2) present for the final vote

Michael Gahler, Monica Giuntini, Catiuscia Marini

(1)

1 Directive 2006/123/EC of 12 December 2006 on services in the internal market (OJ L 376, 27.12.2006, p. 36).

(2)

OJ L 200, 8.8.2000, p. 35.

(3)

Commission Regulation (EC) No 800/2008 of 6 August 2008 declaring certain categories of aid compatible with the common market in application of Articles 87 and 88 of the Treaty (General block exemption Regulation (OJ L 214, 9.8.2008, p. 3).


OPINION of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (*) (3.12.2008)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on the Small Business Act

(2008/2237(INI))

Rapporteur(*): Martí Grau i Segú

(*) Associated committee - Rule 47 of the Rules of Procedure

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions in its motion for a resolution:

A.  whereas small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) account for more than 99% of EU enterprises and are of the uttermost importance for fulfilling the objectives of the Lisbon strategy as regards growth and jobs and for the competitiveness and robustness of the economy due to their diversity and ability to rapidly adapt to market conditions,

B.   whereas SMEs make an essential contribution to social cohesion, innovation, regional development and Europe’s ability to compete,

C.  whereas SMEs are not provided with sufficient support to defend themselves against unfair commercial practices that are conducted cross-border, such as those of misleading business directory companies,

1.   Welcomes the Small Business Act (SBA) as a framework for a comprehensive political approach towards SMEs, while respecting their diversity; calls however for further measures to ensure that SMEs can benefit fully from the opportunities offered by the Single Market, notably by providing a graduated response so as to take account of their diversity, in particular with regard to craft industries and small businesses;

2.   Underlines the importance of the Single Market for SMEs, and notes that promoting SME access to the Single Market should be a priority;

3.   Recognises that there are still certain restrictions on the ability of SMEs to fully exploit advantages offered by the internal market; therefore notes that both the legal and political framework of the internal market should be improved to facilitate cross-border operation by SMEs; also notes that a clear regulatory environment would offer SMEs increased incentives to trade in the internal market; considers that Member States should set up Single Points of Contact and web portals;

4.   Calls urgently for recognition of the role that intermediate SME organisations play by facilitating the access of small and micro-businesses to the internal market and to the advantages this affords; calls for the provision of support measures in the SBA and in all Community programmes for the accompanying and advisory role that these representative intermediate organisations play;

5.   Recognises that pre-commercial procurement offers substantial rewards for SMEs both in facilitating SME participation in procurement practises and in helping to encourage SME involvement in research and development;

6.   Notes that SMEs can benefit from pre-commercial procurement through risk sharing (given their more limited investment capabilities), through progressive growth (in size and experience) at each stage of the research and development process and through the bidding process, which is streamlined compared to traditional procurement;

7.   Underlines the importance of taking measures suited to the real needs of SMEs, and particularly the smallest of them, notably as regards access to, cost of and implementation of standards, reducing administrative burdens and improving regulation and the stability of legal provisions; also draws attention to the need to simplify procedures relating to business transfers and to the importance of informing and supporting company directors in this process, to avoid businesses closing when entrepreneurs retire;

8.   Reminds the Commission of the need to increase consultation at European level with representative intermediate SME organisations, whose participation in the legislative process must be secured; repeats its call for improvement of the system of impact assessment, with account also being taken of the realities of the different categories of SMEs;

9.   Highlights the need for an administrative environment that is less complex, more flexible and less bureaucratic; calls, nevertheless, for a plan for the simplification of administrative procedures to be drawn up that will make management more flexible and eliminate unnecessary red tape;

10. Stresses that it is vital to give preferential treatment to SMEs in training policies, and in particular in lifelong learning programmes, establishing positive discrimination to facilitate the full integration of women in this sector and guarantee the balance between family life and employment;

11.  Takes the view that it is essential to provide optimum access to start-up and spin-off financing for SMEs, especially micro-credits;

12. Recognises the difficulty of setting up a new business as a result of the diversity of systems established in the various Member States; therefore considers it necessary to establish a unified system for setting up businesses in which the process is carried out step-by-step and it is possible for a business to be created in 48 hours;

13. Points out that one in four cases of failure of SMEs is due to late payment, in most cases on the part of public administrations; therefore recommends to the Member States that they introduce mechanisms to guarantee payment within the prescribed period and, furthermore, that they consider applying administrative sanctions in this respect;

14. Points out that SMEs are particularly vulnerable in relation to violations of intellectual property rights; highlights the importance of creating a Community patent to strengthen and protect innovation by European SMEs vis-à-vis their competitors;

15. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to increase the competitiveness of SMEs by giving them greater access to European innovation aid programmes and by providing them with the means for fighting counterfeiting and fraud in the internal market more effectively, and to demand that their commercial partners apply the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) more strictly and to make whatever efforts may be necessary for the adoption of bilateral, regional or multilateral agreements to combat counterfeiting and piracy, such as the ACTA agreement;

16. Underlines that improved information on market access and export opportunities within the Single Market is essential at both national and EU levels; calls therefore on Member States and the Commission to strengthen information and advisory services, in particular the SOLVIT problem-solving network;

17. Supports calls for the provision of advisory services by Member States to help SMEs defend themselves against unfair commercial practices, such as those of misleading directory companies, which should strengthen SMEs' confidence to operate cross-border; emphasises the importance of the Commission's role both in facilitating the coordination of, and in cooperating with, such advisory services to ensure the appropriate and efficient handling of cross-border complaints; insists, however, that in the event that such soft measures do not produce results, the Commission should be ready to initiate the appropriate legislative changes which would provide SMEs with similar protection to consumers where they are the weaker party in such transactions;

18. Encourages the Commission and the Member States to facilitate the access of SMEs to public contracts, in particular by standardising the documents required and the different online platforms of public contracts and by making more frequent use of phased payments, in order to guarantee that SMEs obtain the same advantages as the other tendering firms, benefit from innovative solutions and thereby safeguard their regional development;

19. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to step up their efforts to promote and provide information on the existence of Community funds and State aids, and to make these two kinds of instrument not only more accessible but also more comprehensible;

20.  Encourages the stimulation of an entrepreneurial culture through education and training and particularly through, inter alia, greater collaboration between research and industry; takes the view that initiatives in this respect should also focus on the importance of SMEs in enhancing social cohesion, efficiency and environmental protection (eco-innovations); calls on the Commission to present an action plan on how to promote women's entrepreneurship;

21. Recognises that SME involvement in research and development is important both to increase SME competitiveness in the internal market and to increase the attractiveness of SMEs; is of the opinion that conditions for participation in EU research Framework Programmes remain too bureaucratic and are a disincentive for SMEs;

22. Calls for simplification of the requirements for SMEs to obtain financing in the context of public procurement; takes the view that financial institutions and banks should create programmes tailored to the needs of SMEs;

23. Takes the view that the Member States should apply the SBA and its principles as a matter of priority, monitor its implementation and complement that monitoring with an annual report reflecting the progress made by each Member State;

24. Recalls that the SBA does not have legally binding status and therefore calls for a strong political commitment by the Commission, Parliament and the Council to systematically apply the ‘Think small first’ principle; recommends that the Member States apply the principles of the SBA and the ‘Think small first’ principle at national and regional level;

25. Underlines the importance of stakeholder input through public consultation by the Commission, but notes that the eight-week period for consultation represents a significant barrier to the interests of SMEs being taken into account; would therefore encourage the Commission to reconsider a longer consultation period to help meet policy objectives as well as to encourage SME involvement and representation;

26. Considers that the Commission and the Member States should together ensure that the business environment does not present disincentives, whether through burdensome procedures, tax disincentives or other regulatory complexity, to people with specialist skills who wish to offer them on a self-employed basis.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE

Date adopted

2.12.2008

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

33

0

0

Members present for the final vote

Gabriela Creţu, Mia De Vits, Janelly Fourtou, Evelyne Gebhardt, Martí Grau i Segú, Małgorzata Handzlik, Malcolm Harbour, Christopher Heaton-Harris, Anna Hedh, Edit Herczog, Eija-Riitta Korhola, Lasse Lehtinen, Toine Manders, Catiuscia Marini, Arlene McCarthy, Catherine Neris, Bill Newton Dunn, Zita Pleštinská, Zuzana Roithová, Heide Rühle, Leopold Józef Rutowicz, Salvador Domingo Sanz Palacio, Christel Schaldemose, Andreas Schwab, Eva-Britt Svensson, Marianne Thyssen, Jacques Toubon, Barbara Weiler

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Emmanouil Angelakas, Brigitte Fouré, Joel Hasse Ferreira, Anja Weisgerber

Substitute(s) under Rule 178(2) present for the final vote

Maddalena Calia


OPINION of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (3.12.2008)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on the Small Business Act

(2008/2237(INI))

Rapporteur: Anja Weisgerber

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions in its motion for a resolution:

1.   Welcomes the fact that the Commission has set in place a comprehensive political framework for dismantling bureaucracy for SMEs and with it has given a clear signal for the key role of the SMEs in economic growth, employment, social cohesion and innovation in Europe; stresses that, currently, most jobs being created in Europe are in SMEs, especially in craft industries and small businesses, and that SMEs are thus one of the foundations for achieving the Lisbon Strategy targets as regards the quantity and quality of jobs;

2.   Notes that, despite the clear commitment made in the original Small Business Charter, the voice of SMEs remains muted within the context of the social dialogue; urges that this deficit is formally corrected by appropriate proposals within the context of the Small Business Act;

3.   Welcomes the direct link made with current EU-level legislative reform –European Private Company, review of State Aid, reduced VAT rate, etc. – and with reforms which it has itself requested, such as that relating to micro-credits;

4.   Sees a need, in the framework of the Small Business Act, for greater emphasis to be given to the area of labour law, especially in view of the concept of flexicurity, which enables SMEs in particular to respond more quickly to changes in the market and therefore to guarantee a higher level of employment and the competitiveness of the company, as well as international competitiveness, while taking into account the necessary social protection; in this connection refers to its resolution of 29 November 2007 on flexicurity(1);

5.   Furthermore, stresses the importance of labour law, especially in view of how its application to SMEs can be optimised, for example through better advice or the simplification of administrative procedures, and calls on the Member States to devote special attention to SMEs in connection with the specific approaches they adopt to flexicurity, including through active labour market policies, since SMEs enjoy leeway for greater internal and external flexibility owing to their low staffing levels but also need greater security for themselves and their workers; considers it essential that labour law, as one of the main pillars of flexicurity, provides a reliable legal basis for SMEs given the fact that these businesses often cannot afford a legal department or a human resources management department; points out that 91.5% of European companies employ fewer than 10 people (source: Eurostat, 2003);

6.   Stresses therefore the need to ensure that the diversity of SMEs is taken into account in the responses adopted, including as regards single-person limited liability businesses and/or individual undertakings which, owing to their statute, face specific problems in terms of development and in the field of social and fiscal matters and access to financing;

7.   Considers it necessary to introduce measures to combat undeclared work, which is unarguably a source of unfair competition for highly labour-intensive SMEs;

8.   Is concerned about the continuing lack of qualified workforce, and the slowness in attaining the Lisbon Strategy objectives with reference to the quality and enhancement of social capital and to training, which might lead to further qualification shortages in the labour market; points out that SMEs are in competition with larger businesses for qualified workers and that they should be supported with training, and particularly vocational training, and in the acquisition, development and transmission of their staff's skills; welcomes in this connection the measures which the Commission has announced in the Small Business Act for young business people, journeymen and apprentices (Erasmus) and for the creation of a European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET);

9.   Calls on European and national public authorities to provide strong support for craft industries and SMEs by:

–    devising institutional financial solutions for SMEs at a supra-enterprise level in order to help them commit more actively to continuous and lifelong training,

–    encouraging sectors with a large proportion of SMEs to invest (or continue investing) in sector-specific forms of occupational training and retraining with a view to contributing to continuity in the sector as well as to overcoming potential qualification shortages on the labour market,

–    ensuring the availability on the market of tailor-made training that matches the specific requirements of SMEs at affordable prices,

–    supporting SMEs with flanking measures, such as advisory services in the field of internal flexibility (concerning, for example, new models for the organisation of working time) or ones helping SMEs offer better conditions for the reconciliation of family and working life;

10. Welcomes the Commission's invitation to the Member States to promote self-employment and entrepreneurship in school education and professional training, particularly in general secondary education, in order to encourage more positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship in European society; calls on the Commission to accompany the Member States in their efforts through 'best practice' procedures for innovative training and linking-up with higher levels of education and research;

11. Draws attention to the fact that measures to promote and support entrepreneurship are of critical importance in the new Member States, where many people have lost their jobs because of structural economic changes;

12. Reminds the Commission and Member States that it would be appropriate to promote business networks and cluster formations, based on best practices in the Member States, that enable the desired scale to be maintained and enable, for example, the sharing of facilities, goods and services;

13. Agrees, in the context of impact assessment for new legislative proposals, with the introduction of a compulsory 'SME test', the results of which would be assessed by an external, independent body; calls on the Commission in this connection to avail itself of procedures such as cost-benefit analyses or the regular consultation of stakeholders; calls on the Commission to allow SME associations more time to take part in consultations relating to new legislative proposals;

14. Stresses the importance of encouraging young entrepreneurs and female entrepreneurs through, amongst other things, the introduction of tutoring and mentoring programmes; points out that an increasing number of women and young entrepreneurs work in SMEs, albeit primarily still in the smallest businesses (micro-businesses), and remain prey to ill effects of stereotyping and prejudice in connection with business transfers and successions, especially in the case of family businesses; calls therefore on Member States, taking account of the impact of the ageing population, to implement suitable policies and mechanisms, in particular by introducing diagnostic, information, advisory and support tools for business transfers;

15. Reiterates the importance of ensuring access to credit, including micro-credit, especially in the current period of crisis and turmoil on the financial market, and calls on Member States to strengthen and amplify their policy measures in support of SMEs, for example by doing more than simply providing a second chance to honest entrepreneurs who have faced bankruptcy and by introducing guarantee funds and 'honour loans' for developing innovative projects geared towards sustainable development; furthermore, calls for account to be taken of SME cooperative arrangements in the Small Business Act, since it is established that such networks run less risk of insolvency than individual enterprises;

16. Points to the need for the issue of reconciling the working life and family life of both female and male entrepreneurs to be addressed through operational policies and instruments, with reference to maternity, paternity, parental and family leave and leave for training and participation in associational life, providing for integrated forms of support and replacement services;

17. Invites Member States to enhance the inclusion of SMEs owned by underrepresented ethnic minorities in the mainstream economy by developing supplier diversity programmes which aim to provide equal opportunities to underrepresented businesses competing with larger undertakings for contracts;

18. Supports the development of micro-credits (up to EUR 25 000) through the Microfinance Fund to a value of EUR 40 million, in order to encourage new business start-up in particular and calls upon the European Investment Bank to ensure rapid implementation at regional level; welcomes the fact that the European Social Fund also provides for measures to encourage business start-up, in particular to promote female entrepreneurship, and calls on the Member States to make good use of this possibility;

19. Is concerned that the present 'credit crunch' may have a disproportionately negative effect on cashflow for SMEs, as larger customers put pressure on smaller suppliers to grant extended payment terms; urges that the consultation period relating to the impact of the Late Payments Directive(2) is re-activated in early 2009 so that the latest trends can be accurately monitored and assessed;

20. Points out that direct commitments from the Commission should be incorporated into the fourth set of proposed policy measures, not least as regards ways of improving access to information, both on the relevant regulations and on planning and financing possibilities, including through the network of offices already in operation, such as the Europe Direct offices;

21. Reiterates the importance accorded to the corporate social responsibility of small-scale businesses, which necessitates horizontal links, networks and services; considers it ineffective to refer to the European Environmental Management and Audit system certification, both because this will detract from existing certificates, and because it links in solely with the environmental challenge.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE

Date adopted

2.12.2008

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

39

2

0

Members present for the final vote

Jan Andersson, Edit Bauer, Iles Braghetto, Philip Bushill-Matthews, Alejandro Cercas, Ole Christensen, Derek Roland Clark, Luigi Cocilovo, Jean Louis Cottigny, Jan Cremers, Proinsias De Rossa, Harald Ettl, Carlo Fatuzzo, Ilda Figueiredo, Stephen Hughes, Ona Juknevičienė, Elizabeth Lynne, Thomas Mann, Jan Tadeusz Masiel, Maria Matsouka, Juan Andrés Naranjo Escobar, Csaba Őry, Siiri Oviir, Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou, Pier Antonio Panzeri, Rovana Plumb, Bilyana Ilieva Raeva, José Albino Silva Peneda, Jean Spautz, Gabriele Stauner, Ewa Tomaszewska, Anne Van Lancker

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Gabriela Creţu, Petru Filip, Marian Harkin, Magda Kósáné Kovács, Sepp Kusstatscher, Jamila Madeira, Viktória Mohácsi, Csaba Sógor, Anja Weisgerber

(1)

OJ C 297 E, 20.11.2008, p. 174..

(2)

Directive 2000/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 June 2000 on combating late payment in commercial transactions (OJ L 200, 8.8.2000, p. 35).


OPINION of the Committee on Culture and Education (20.1.2009)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on Small Business Act

(2008/2237(INI))

Rapporteur: Helga Trüpel

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Culture and Education calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions in its motion for a resolution:

1.   urges the Commission and Member States to take into account the creative and cultural sector as a driver of economic and social development in the European Union – with a share of 2.6% of the GDP and 2.5% of the EU workforce; emphasises the importance of SMEs in stimulating the ICT sector and the creative industry;

2.   recalls that the "sense of initiative and entrepreneurship" is a key competence(1), calls on Member States to include this both in their Lifelong Learning strategies and in their national curricula and to create better synergies between enterprises in the creative sector and schools, and thus to encourage the important role of entrepreneurial abilities and skills starting with an early stage; supports the Commission's intention to extend the scope of the Leonardo da Vinci programme;

3.   emphasises that the creative sector is dominated by small and medium-sized structures and is especially important in terms of safeguarding sustainable regional employment;

4.   calls on the Commission and Member States to facilitate the mobility of artists, entrepreneurs and self-employed in order to ease the free movement of services in the creative sector through promoting the harmonisation and transparency of rules and easy access to work permits and social security frameworks;

5.   urges the Commission and the Member States to provide targeted promotion measures and individual support such as information, advice and opportunities to access venture capital for business start-ups in the SME sector;

6.   encourages the Commission and Member States to facilitate the access to finance for SMEs, from an early stage and to micro-lending and loan-guarantees; requests sustained efforts to effectively protect intellectual property rights and authors' rights and enable SMEs to use their IP to attract finance;

7.   urges the Commission and Member States to consider a well-balanced system of reduced VAT rates for merit goods that are desirable from a societal perspective, such as cultural goods, without ignoring the effects on intra-community commerce and national budgets;

8.   supports the idea to extend until 2012 the current exemption from competition rules of state aid for film production and considers this as a great support of creative SMEs;

9.   supports the new state aid rules laid down in Commission Regulation (EC) No 800/2008 of 6 August 2008 declaring certain categories of aid compatible with the common market in application of Articles 87 and 88 of the Treaty (General block exemption Regulation)(2) for exempting, under certain conditions, SMEs from notification rules;

10. emphasises the need to develop a social and economic model that creates an appropriate security network for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs in the creative sector, where unstable working conditions are often encountered.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE

Date adopted

20.1.2009

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

25

1

0

Members present for the final vote

Maria Badia i Cutchet, Ivo Belet, Guy Bono, Marie-Hélène Descamps, Věra Flasarová, Milan Gaľa, Vasco Graça Moura, Lissy Gröner, Luis Herrero-Tejedor, Ruth Hieronymi, Mikel Irujo Amezaga, Ramona Nicole Mănescu, Manolis Mavrommatis, Ljudmila Novak, Doris Pack, Zdzisław Zbigniew Podkański, Pál Schmitt, Hannu Takkula, Thomas Wise, Tomáš Zatloukal

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Gyula Hegyi, Nina Škottová, László Tőkés, Ewa Tomaszewska, Cornelis Visser

Substitute(s) under Rule 178(2) present for the final vote

Maria Berger

(1)

Recommendation 2006/962/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on key competences for lifelong learning (L 394, 30.12.2006, p 10).

(2)

OJ L 214, 9.8.2008, p. 3.


OPINION of the Committee on Legal Affairs (21.11.2008)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on the Small Business Act

(2008/2237(INI))

Rapporteur: Othmar Karas

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Legal Affairs calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions in its motion for a resolution:

A. whereas all European institutions recognise the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to Europe’s economy and repeatedly stress their essential contribution to social cohesion, innovation, regional development, gender equality, and the European Union’s competitiveness, emphasising it particularly in times of financial crisis,

B.  whereas despite previous European Union initiatives, there has been little or no tangible improvement in the business environment since 2000,

C. whereas the 'only once' and proportionality principles and legal certainty are key to SME development and should be part of all European Union and national legislations,

1.  Calls on the Member States to announce by the end of 2009 how and in what timeframe the core elements of the 'Think Small First' principle will be incorporated into national legislation;

2.  Calls on the Member States to include, on a compulsory basis, progress on the implementation of the core elements of the 'Think Small First' principle as a new and independent chapter in the annual reports on the Lisbon Strategy national reform programmes;

3.  Calls on the Commission to work out standard criteria for the measurement of progress in the implementation of the 'Think Small First' principle;

4.  Calls on the Commission to highlight ways in which the 'Think Small First' principle can be established as an obligatory component of future European legislation;

5.  Stresses the need to add a compulsory 'SME Test' to the impact assessment for legislative proposals, which would be subject to an external, independent assessment; asks the Commission to make the results of this assessment available to the legislative bodies;

6.  Supports the plan to draw up a statute for a European Private Company (EPC);

7.  Takes the view that the conclusions of the High-Level Group on company law/annual accounts must be included in the implementation of the measures in the Small Business Act;

8.  Calls on the Commission to hold a hearing before the European Parliament on the subject of European SME policy at every new appointment in the Commission that is relevant to SMEs;

9.  Calls on the European Union institutions to recognise and take account of the specific features of SMEs in the area of the liberal professions, which also perform public tasks related to the public interest.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE

Date adopted

17.11.2008

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

19

0

0

Members present for the final vote

Carlo Casini, Bert Doorn, Monica Frassoni, Giuseppe Gargani, Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, Neena Gill, Othmar Karas, Klaus-Heiner Lehne, Antonio Masip Hidalgo, Manuel Medina Ortega, Aloyzas Sakalas, Diana Wallis, Rainer Wieland, Jaroslav Zvěřina, Tadeusz Zwiefka

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Jean-Paul Gauzès, József Szájer, Jacques Toubon, Ieke van den Burg


OPINION of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (4.12.2008)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on the Small Business Act

(2008/2237(INI))

Rapporteur: Anni Podimata

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions in its motion for a resolution:

A.  whereas in many small family businesses women, despite their contribution to the activity, do not have the same legal status as their partners, being unpaid family workers or employees whilst the partner is the factory owner,

B.   whereas women are often prevented from developing economic activities by a lack of social and economic networks which could support their initiatives, a different evaluation of the economic needs of women and men and the aggressiveness of the business environment,

C.  whereas the lack, or reduced level, of social protection available to self-employed women constitutes a significant barrier to women setting up businesses,

1.  Congratulates the Commission for having taken into consideration its requests with regard to encouraging entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial talent among women, and invites the Commission to integrate this aspect into the implementation of the 'Erasmus for young entrepreneurs' initiative;

2.  Notes with regret that women face difficulties in establishing and maintaining businesses owing to factors such as information gaps, lack of contacts and access to networking, gender discrimination and stereotyping, weak and inflexible supply of childcare facilities, difficulties in reconciling business and family obligations, as well as differences in the way women and men approach entrepreneurship;

3.  Congratulates the Commission on its new initiative revising Council Directive 86/613/EEC(1) on self-employed women and assisting female spouses and believes that this adjustment to new circumstances will help strengthen female entrepreneurship and expand the base of the self-employed;

4.  Stresses that female entrepreneurship helps to attract women into the labour market and to improve their economic and social status; regrets, nonetheless, that there is a continuing gender gap in this area, in particular as regards pay, despite the strong interest shown in the position of women, and that the percentage of female entrepreneurs in the EU still remains low, partly as a result of the unacknowledged (e.g. unpaid) and yet important contribution made by women in the day-to-day running of family small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);

5.  Asks the Commission to quickly establish the network of female entrepreneur ambassadors, as well as the mentoring schemes aimed at inspiring women to set up their own businesses and provide first-line advice;

6.   Calls on the Member States to:

- develop specific women-targeted entrepreneurship education programmes and cultivate, through national and European programmes and the pooling of best practices, an innovative mindset in young people, especially in young women, and female entrepreneurship;

- include provisions in the legislation concerning the establishment of SMEs which can guarantee the equal legal ownership status of women when a family enterprise is set up;

- promote the creation of partnerships between entrepreneurs, both male and female, in order to reduce discrimination against women in the business environment;

7.  Invites Member States to implement systematic strategies to boost female entrepreneurship, as well as concrete measures facilitating female entrepreneurs' access to credit and banking services, in particular microloans; asks Member States and the Commission to ensure that the current financial crisis does not have a damaging effect on SMEs, and especially on female entrepreneurship;

8.  Asks the Member States to consider minimum standard rules on employees’ participation rights and gender equality programmes which must accompany the European private company statute; to ensure that workers’ participation rights are respected, proposes that the most appropriate approach would be, as in the case of the European Company and the European Co-operative Society, to complement the European private company statute with a separate directive on workers’ participation rights;

9.  Asks the Commission to add more detailed requirements, in particular with regard to the cross-border dimension of a European private company, its minimum capital requirement, the way in which its governing bodies will be able to take into account employees’ participation and women's representation and the transparency of its operations;

10. Encourages Member States to facilitate female entrepreneurship in the SME sector by establishing appropriate professional and financial advice facilities and structures for upgrading the skills of female workers, that take full account of the gender aspects of enterprise development and which take into account women's wider roles in their families and/or communities;

11. Points out that the use of new technologies particularly helps young female entrepreneurs avoid administrative costs;

12. Invites Member States to draw attention to businesses that take steps to promote equality between women and men, in particular as regards pay and access to jobs, and to facilitate a work-life balance;

13. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to take measures to remove inequalities related to social protection (especially maternity protection) for self-employed women;

14. Recognises that training, research and development supported under the Small Business Act must be flexible enough to enable women, especially those who have children to look after, to follow their own individual requirements in terms of working hours;

15. Recognises that any system of support offered to entrepreneurs, and particularly women entrepreneurs, including skills and enterprise management training and facilitated access to resources (including equipment, premises, transport and credit), must be on-going so as to help businesses survive beyond the basic start-up.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE

Date adopted

2.12.2008

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

11

0

6

Members present for the final vote

Edit Bauer, Ilda Figueiredo, Věra Flasarová, Lissy Gröner, Urszula Krupa, Pia Elda Locatelli, Astrid Lulling, Siiri Oviir, Zita Pleštinská, Anni Podimata, Teresa Riera Madurell, Raül Romeva i Rueda, Anne Van Lancker, Corien Wortmann-Kool, Anna Záborská

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Donata Gottardi, Marusya Ivanova Lyubcheva

Substitute(s) under Rule 178(2) present for the final vote

Juan Andrés Naranjo Escobar

(1)

Council Directive 86/613/EEC of 11 December 1986 on the application of the principle of equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity, including agriculture, in a self-employed capacity, and on the protection of self-employed women during pregnancy and motherhood (OJ L 359, 19.12.1986, p. 58).


RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE

Date adopted

12.2.2009

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

43

0

0

Members present for the final vote

Šarūnas Birutis, Jan Březina, Jerzy Buzek, Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, Giles Chichester, Dragoş Florin David, Pilar del Castillo Vera, Den Dover, Lena Ek, Nicole Fontaine, Adam Gierek, Norbert Glante, András Gyürk, Fiona Hall, David Hammerstein, Ján Hudacký, Romana Jordan Cizelj, Pia Elda Locatelli, Eluned Morgan, Antonio Mussa, Angelika Niebler, Reino Paasilinna, Anni Podimata, Miloslav Ransdorf, Vladimír Remek, Herbert Reul, Teresa Riera Madurell, Paul Rübig, Andres Tarand, Britta Thomsen, Patrizia Toia, Catherine Trautmann, Claude Turmes, Nikolaos Vakalis, Adina-Ioana Vălean, Alejo Vidal-Quadras

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Alexander Alvaro, Juan Fraile Cantón, Cristina Gutiérrez-Cortines, Gunnar Hökmark, Eija-Riitta Korhola, John Purvis, Vladimir Urutchev

Last updated: 26 February 2009Legal notice