Europe's 19 million small and
medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a vital role in fostering innovation,
creating employment and maintaining the economic competitiveness of the
region. Their active involvement in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6)
is assured by earmarking a substantial proportion of the total budget
specifically for their use, through a mixture of existing mechanisms and
Over the four-year period of FP6, €2,230 million
from the overall €17,500 million budget will be allocated to SMEs.
This is made up of €1,800 million under ‘focusing and integrating
activities’ , representing 15% of the €13,345 million total
for this section. A further €430 million will be assigned for SME-specific
As in FP5, the funding will support higher-risk R&D that cannot easily
attract venture capital from the public sector. It will also assist smaller
companies in establishing the strategic cross-border partnerships necessary
to success in a global marketplace.
||Range of options
SMEs will be encouraged
to join as ‘prized partners’ in the new integrated projects
and networks of excellence, where their particular attributes will
complement those of the larger enterprises and academic institutes.
In addition, several other modes of participation are available:
from FP5 will be the CRAFT funding mechanism, whereby consortia
of SMEs lacking their own research facilities can undertake projects
in which the work is contracted to appropriate external institutes.
This provides a practical means of sharing resources and know-how
that may not otherwise be affordable for an individual business.
A new SME measure – already piloted towards the end of FP5
– is ‘collective research’. This will enable
associations and similar organisations to lead research projects
for the collective benefit of their SME members. It will address
the needs of large numbers of small businesses, or even entire
industrial sectors, in such areas as standards, global competition
or environment regulation.
The Economic and Technological Intelligence (ETI) accompanying
measure will be carried over to FP6. Here, the aim is to use established
sources to identify SME needs, and anticipate market and technological
trends. Existing information networks, services and intermediaries
will provide SMEs with information and analysis to help them meet
those needs and to direct them towards the most suitable Community
Finally, the concept of ‘stairways of excellence’
is seen as a means of supporting research-oriented SMEs in the
early stages of FP6, by funding discrete projects with a potential
for eventual expansion into larger-scale initiatives that underlie
the vision of the European Research Area.
National Contact Points (NCPs), as also established
during FP5, will again play an important role by organising and
disseminating specific information on FP6, as well as providing
advice and training to SMEs.