European Commission - Growth

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Study on representativeness of SME business organisations in the Member States Published on: 11/06/2009, Last update: 13/06/2009

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European Commission/EIM.

This study, commissioned by the European Commission, consists of a survey of the structure of the SME sector in the EU Member States, and how this determines the structure of SME organisation and representation. It analyses the structure of the SME sector for each Member State, identifies the relevant SME organisations at national level - together with those representing specific categories such as craft or social economy enterprises, women or ethnic minority entrepreneurs etc - and assesses their representativeness.

This study aims to achieve a better insight into and understanding of the structure of the SME sector, and thereby the representation of SMEs, in the EU Member States, and to collect information enabling to a strengthened dialogue with SME stakeholders in order to better implement the “Think small first” principle and the measures proposed by the “Small business act” for Europe.

Key findings:

General issues

  • About half of the horizontal business organisations were established after 1989. Organisations located in the old Member States are generally older than the organisations located in the new Member States. Organisations covering SMEs in general, craft enterprises and the social economy enterprises are, on average, older than the organisations covering the other categories of enterprises distinguished.
  • About half of the organisations have fewer than 12 employees. In particular, the business organisations covering the categories of family business, social enterprises, women entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs from ethnic minorities are small.
  • About 95% of the business organisations receive their finance from membership fees. About one-third obtain additional income from selling products/ services and government subsidies. The organisations in the old Member States confirmed receiving a subsidy more often than those in the new Member States.


  • Organisations can have different types of members: only business organisations, only individual enterprises/entrepreneurs and both enterprises and business organisations. Approximately one out of seven has only business organisations as members. About half only have individual enterprises as members.
  • The organisations covering family businesses, high-growth/high-tech enterprises, young entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs more often have individual enterprises/entrepreneurs as members.
  • The number of members of the organisations that only have business organisations as its members varies roughly between 4 and 200.
  • The majority of horizontal business organisations have voluntary membership, although in some cases membership of the member organisation, for example a local chamber is compulsory.
  • Horizontal organisations with indirect compulsory membership are on average larger.
  • About three quarters of the members of the organisations are micro and small enterprises. The total number of jobs that are provided by the members of theorganisations varies enormously, from 15 to more than 10 million. Evidently, the organisations covering SMEs in general indirectly represent, on average, more jobs than those from the categories women entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs with an ethnic background and high-growth/high-tech entrepreneurs.

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