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Points of View:

Making SME participation simple

Wolfgang Burtscher

The European Commission has unveiled proposals to make participating in EU-funded research less complicated and more attractive to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). From reducing administrative burdens to increasing the 'Tolerable Risk of Error', these simplifications would allow SMEs to focus on results, not red tape.

We talk to Wolfgang Burtscher, Deputy Director-General of DG Research, to get his views on the proposed simplifications and on changes already implemented.

'It is crucial for European research to reach its full potential and our underlying priority is to make rules and policies more favourable to SMEs,' says Mr Burtscher. 'By rendering rules as simple as possible, we can make life easier, attract more people to the programme and reduce the risk of error.'

Already implemented

A number of changes have already been implemented under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), and include:

Audit certificate

The Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) contract required the submission of at least one audit certificate, often two or more, which was cumbersome and a heavy burden for SMEs. The rules have now changed: an audit certificate is only required for amounts over EUR 375 000. 'This is a major achievement because around 80% of the payments we make are below this threshold,' says Mr Burtscher. 'It makes life much easier for the vast majority of people involved.'

Financial viability

Proving financial viability was also an issue, particularly for start-ups. But the setting up of a guarantee fund has now removed the need to check financial viability for SMEs that receive amounts below EUR 500,000.

Reimbursement rates

Reimbursement rates for SMEs and flat rates for indirect costs increased considerably in FP7. SMEs can now claim 75% of their research and development (R&D) costs (up from 50%) and charge 60% for their overheads.

Proposed changes for the future FP