Few small businesses in Europe export beyond the EU. Increasing the internationalisation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and helping them access third markets is crucial for Europe’s competitiveness, economic growth and innovation. The European Commission's priority is to ensure that enterprises can rely on a business-friendly environment and make the most out of growth markets outside the EU.
The survey explores the international business activities carried out by SMEs inside and outside the Internal Market, with a strong focus on export and import.
Why should SMEs expand their business beyond the EU?
According to a study on the level of internationalisation of European SMEs (748 kB, 2009), international SMEs also create more jobs and are more innovative than national SMEs.
A Eurobarometer survey (2015) shows that about half of SMEs in the EU were involved in international business outside the Internal Market over the last three years. Complicated administrative procedures, high delivery costs and identifying business partners were indicated as the major barriers for exporting.
In 2011, the Commission proposed a new strategy aimed at helping SMEs expand their business outside the EU. The Communication 'Small business, big world' sets out six fields of action:
A number of studies were conducted to understand the problems SMEs face when going international and to help them overcome these challenges - see studies on internationalisation.
The Commission also established SME policy dialogues bilaterally (China) and multilaterally (EU-MED Cooperation, Eastern Partnership). These aim at aligning the policy framework for SMEs across borders.
The SME Workshop aimed to share expertise in promoting the development of US and EU SMEs and expanding opportunities for them to export to each other's markets.
See support for SME internationalisation available to companies that want to go international.