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Responding to small business needs

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The Small Business Act (SBA) was launched just as the financial crisis began to engulf the global economy. But thanks to the SBA, many of Europe’s small businesses were able to withstand the turmoil. Now, as Europe continues down the road to recovery, the SBA will help the EU’s small businesses thrive.

The Small Business Act (SBA) is one of the ways in which the European Commission ensures that small businesses continue to play a big role in the EU economy.

The SBA was first adopted in 2008 and updated in 2011 with a specific focus on helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) cope with the financial crisis. And the process of helping SMEs starts by listening to them.

‘Communication with SMEs – empowering them to collaborate directly with the Commission, giving feedback on what does and doesn’t work – is a pillar of the SBA,’ Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani said.

Communication and outreach

The European Commission seeks feedback from SMEs through a variety of channels, including panels on selected policy proposals and online questionnaires. This emphasis on exchanging ideas has helped fine-tune the Commission’s actions targeted at SMEs.

European Commission SME Envoy Daniel Calleja has seen first-hand how the Commission works with small businesses to maximise the impact – and reduce the burden – of EU regulations.

'As a sign of his commitment to SMEs, Vice-President Tajani has invited all Member States to appoint a national SME Envoy,’ Calleja explained. ‘It is only through 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.'

And there has been no shortage of progress: Since the SBA’s adoption, the Commission has approved hundreds of initiatives – and repealed thousands of legal acts – to make it easier for SMEs to thrive. Thanks in part to the SBA, there was a 26 % reduction in the administrative burden placed on businesses between 2007 and 2012, producing savings worth more than €30 billion per year.

As part of the SBA’s emphasis on collaboration, the Commission carried out a public stakeholder consultation in 2012 to identify which pieces of EU legislation SMEs found the most burdensome. The results of this consultation helped inspire the EU Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme (REFIT), which helped reduce regulatory costs across a variety of sectors.

SME Test

One of the core aspects of the SBA is the ‘SME Test’, designed to assess the impact that any legislative proposal will have on SMEs. By viewing legislation from the perspective of SMEs, the Commission has identified numerous areas in which regulatory measures can be reduced.

Access to markets

Strengthening EU SMEs requires helping them access new markets, both inside and outside the EU. A key element of the 2011 update to the SBA was increasing access to foreign markets.

To that end, the EC has established strategic partnerships with the U.S. and China, and launched SME policy dialogues with Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and others. In addition to dialogues and idea exchanges, the Commission is providing on-the-ground support in third countries. The Commission set up IPR Helpdesks in China, the Mercosur region and Southeast Asia. The Commission also established business centres – which help EU enterprises navigate foreign markets – in China, India and Thailand, and is planning to launch eight more around the globe.

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