Daniel Calleja Crespo is the European Commission's SME Envoy, ensuring an active interface with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
SMEs are a key driver in the European Union’s economic landscape, providing millions of jobs and triggering innovation. The figures speak for themselves: 98 percent of all businesses in the 27 Member States have fewer than 250 employees.
So it’s little wonder that responding to their needs and removing barriers for startups is a top priority for the European Commission. Its Small Business Act for Europe includes a wide-ranging set of measures designed to make life easier for small businesses.
Enterprise & Industry magazine has met Mr Calleja to discover more about the mission of the EU SME Envoy and that of national Envoys appointed by Member States.
Enterprise & Industry magazine: What is the role of the European SME Envoy?
Mr Daniel Calleja: SMEs are the backbone of the European economy. Therefore, the Commission has decided to think first about small businesses. As the SME Envoy of the Commission, it is my role to promote the interests of small businesses within the EU. On the external side, this means that I have a lot of contacts with SME stakeholders in order to listen to their needs and concerns. On the internal side, my role is also to ensure that all Commission services think first and foremost about small businesses.
Why was the network of national SME envoys set up?
Promoting the interests of SMEs can not be done by the European Commission alone. The Treaty has given the EU a supporting role in SME policy; the competences are largely with Member States. Therefore, Vice-President Tajani invited all 27 Member States to appoint a national SME Envoy. It is only in close cooperation between the European Commission and national authorities that we can make concrete progress in the implementation of the Small Business Act for Europe. It is also important for me as the EU SME Envoy to have one interface in each Member State. And of course, the involvement of the small business community is crucial. Therefore, the network of SME Envoys always meets with the full participation of the EU-wide SME organisations.
What have been the main achievements of the network of national SME envoys so far?
The network of SME Envoys is a huge step forward in the governance of the Small Business Act for Europe. We are aiming at concrete deliverables by the end of 2012. Firstly, it should be possible in each Member State to start a business in less than three days and for less than 100 Euros. Secondly, the access to finance should be improved across the EU. Thirdly, SMEs should get a bigger share in public procurement. Fourthly, all regulatory initiatives should be submitted to an SME test to ensure that legislation takes into account the impact on SMEs. The peer pressure in the Network is helping a lot and Member States have already made progress toward these key deliverables.
What is the best starting point for an SME looking for funding or advice on how to market goods or services in another EU country?
There are 23 million SMEs in the EU. Information for SMEs needs to be delivered locally at their doorstep and in their language. Therefore, we have created the Enterprise Europe Network as the local entry point for SMEs looking for advice. The Enterprise Europe Network provides information and advice on EU funding opportunities or on market opportunities in the language of the SME. It helps SMEs to find business partners in other countries and it gives advice on how to overcome regulatory obstacles. To provide these services close to home for the SMEs we have 600 network hosts everywhere in the EU and even beyond the EU borders.
What are the top three activities that the EU is doing to help SMEs?
In the current economic climate, the top priority is facilitating access to finance. SMEs are struggling to get funding. The EU is helping them with specific financial instruments for SMEs via the European Investment Fund. In addition, we are reforming the regulatory framework in order to increase the availability of venture capital in the EU. The second priority is to cut red tape. Cutting red tape frees valuable resources so that entrepreneurs can focus on growing their business. For example, whenever the Commission prepares a legislative initiative, we consider first how we can minimize the regulatory burden for small businesses. The third priority is to support SMEs in expanding into growth markets outside the EU. Only an eighth of European SMEs are active beyond the EU. We are establishing a toolkit for SMEs so that they have full access to the information or support services they need.
Can you explain one initiative where the Commission is trying to help SMEs get access to finance?
To help SMEs to finance their growth, the Commission uses financial instruments in the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme. These financial instruments include both loan guarantees and equity finance. They are implemented by the European Investment Fund via financial intermediaries in the Member States. I would like to point out particularly the impressive leverage effect of these financial instruments: with €1 billion of EU money, we can leverage €30 billion of new lending to SMEs.
Do you believe that SMEs can lead the EU out of the economic crisis and, if so, how?
In recent years, 85% of new jobs have been created by SMEs. This clearly shows that SMEs are the force behind job creation in Europe. SMEs are crucial for restoring growth in the EU. However, I regret that too few Europeans consider setting up their own business. To get out of the crisis, we do not only need to create the best conditions for SMEs to grow, but also for entrepreneurs to start a business.
Mr Daniel Calleja has been the Director General of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, since 1 February 2012. He is the Special Envoy for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Daniel Calleja was the Deputy Director General of DG Enterprise and Industry, from February 2011 to January 2012, and as such in charge of internal markets for goods, competitiveness and innovation, SMEs and entrepreneurship, international negotiations, as well as tourism. Mr Calleja was Director for Air Transport at the European Commission from November 2004 to February 2011, in charge of the single European aviation market and its external dimension. He has successfully negotiated the EU-US Open Skies Agreement, on behalf of the EU. He was the Chairman of the Air Safety and the Single Sky Committees and Chairman of the Board of the SESAR Joint Undertaking. Between 1999 and 2004, he was Head of Cabinet of the Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Transport, Energy and relations with the European Parliament, Mrs Loyola de Palacio.