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Review of 2008:

Reaction to funding programmes

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There can also be no doubt that the September Paris conference was a highlight of the year and increased the visibility of the SME unit’s programmes within the European Research Area (ERA). SME feedback pointed out that the project application and appraisal process remained difficult and bureaucratic, but the programme itself is hugely influential and felt to be worthwhile by SMEs.

'It has been noted that we’ve been trying to simplify things, and it was generous of the Commissioner to acknowledge that if he were to start again then he would consider simplifying the programme further,' says Reichert.

However, Reichert sounds a warning. The threat of bureaucracy is sometimes played up more than it should be. Procedures are in place for a reason and sometimes culture can slow them up unnecessarily:

'People’s perception is that their own national/regional programmes operate much more efficiently than they think is possible with the Brussels machine. However, I’ve been working on simplifying processes since 1999 – and some bureaucracy is necessary if we are to conduct business responsibly,' he says. 'More often success boils down to trust. Getting initiatives like Eurostars through was extremely complicated. It took a huge amount of trust to devolve this kind of initiative to the regions.'

And although keen to encourage competition, Reichert also admits that it is difficult to define how entrepreneurial or innovative someone is. However, the raw ingredients for entrepreneurial success are there. The SME programmes have attracted a good cross-section of companies in Europe.

Although initial thinking was that many young organisations – mainly university spin-offs, etc – would be attracted by the funding programmes, statistics recently compiled by Reichert’s unit reveal a good mixture of micro and small enterprises wanting to get into business, share their experience and participate in networks. Also within the mix are medium-to-large SMEs with huge growth potential.