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SMEs an important aspect of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation

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The European Commission is determined to strengthen ties between the EU and its Mediterranean neighbours, which together form the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). As part of this effort, the Commission hosted a meeting in June to review objectives that will benefit the UfM and, importantly, improve the environment for SMEs both inside and outside the EU.

Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), a partnership between Europe and third countries in the Mediterranean (MED) region, is promoting shared prosperity by fostering industrial cooperation among EU Member States and their MED neighbours.

A crucial element of this collaboration is small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which play a vital role in economic development and job creation in both the EU and MED region. SME development was therefore a key component of a June 2013 meeting in Brussels, which was organised by the European Commission and focused on Euro-Mediterranean industrial cooperation.

Daniel Calleja, Director General of DG Enterprise and Industry and the EU’s SME Envoy, presented the four objectives of the 2013-2014 Work Programme:

  • Improve the business climate and promote entrepreneurship: To thrive, SMEs need a sound regulatory framework and efficient support measures. Thus, Calleja underlined the potential benefits of extending the EU’s Small Business Act for Europe (SBA) – which recognises the central role of SMEs in the European economy – to Mediterranean countries. Adhering to the SBA’s principles, including reduction of regulatory burden and second chances for entrepreneurs, will foster growth among Mediterranean and European SMEs.
  • Encourage SMEs to innovate, export, import and internationalise: This includes possible participation of MED countries in EU SME support networks like the Enterprise Europe Network and, in the future, the EU COSME programme.
  • Exchange views and experience: Organising annual conferences, especially in areas such as textiles, clothing and creative industries – sectors which are fundamental to the MED region – will be productive for UfM members. In addition, Calleja said that special attention should be paid to innovation and creativity as drivers of industrial competitiveness.
  • Establish a large Pan-Euro-Mediterranean products market: The EU and its Mediterranean neighbours will benefit from preparing and negotiating Agreements on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance (ACAA) for industrial products, and cooperating in areas such as standardisation and elimination of non-tariff barriers.

Environment for SMEs improved

In spite of the global economic crisis and political changes throughout the Mediterranean region, all MED countries have improved the environment for SMEs. Progress has been particularly strong for access to finance and services for companies.

However, advancements have been mainly incremental, and additional regulatory reforms are necessary in a region that suffers from massive youth unemployment, low participation of women in the labour force, low integration in global value chains and a lack of economic diversification. The EU is eager to share recipes for tackling such challenges. As a sign of the EU’s commitment, a four-year regional programme will support private sector development in MED countries from 2014 onwards. The programme, which has a budget of €12 million, comprises of a few main components:

  • Contribute to the improvement of the business environment for micro, small and medium-size enterprises in the MED region.
  • Develop quality Euro-Mediterranean networks providing adequate support and linkage services in sectors of common interest.
  • Foster entrepreneurial cooperation in the cultural and creative industries.

ACAA-type market access agreements, which abolish barriers to trade, are currently at different stages of preparation and negotiation in MED countries. The primary sectors concerned are machinery, electrical products, construction products, pressure equipment, toys, medical appliances, gas appliances and pharmaceuticals.

‘The EU needs to give a clear signal that strong industrial cooperation is of mutual benefit for Mediterranean neighbours and the EU. Further economic development and job creation will also support political stability in the region. Our dialogue must continue to spur leadership, creativity and sharing. A stronger economic partnership will have a tangible impact on all sides of the Mediterranean Sea.’ – Daniel Calleja, Director General of DG Enterprise and Industry and the EU’s SME Envoy


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