I am honoured to be here and proud that the first COSME guarantee agreement in Flanders which benefits from the support of the European Fund for Strategic Investment will be signed today with ParticipatieMaatschappij Vlaanderen.


This means that more than 700 SMEs will be able to access €40 million in funding through new loans.


Access to finance for SMEs has been difficult in recent years in the EU. SMEs continue to be at a disadvantage compared to large firms in terms of interest rates and the total cost of borrowing.


Even though access to finance is less of a concern for Belgian SMEs compared to the average in the euro zone, bank loans remain the most relevant form of external financing for 58% of Belgian SMEs.


According to a recent survey of SMEs on access to finance, 16% of SMEs in Belgium did not manage to get the full bank loan financing they had planned for during 2015.


I am convinced that the agreement which is signed today will help them to overcome the capital shortages they face.


It shows that the European Commission is firmly committed to supporting SMEs, which are the backbone of the European economy and create 85% of all new jobs.


Growth and jobs in Europe are the number one priority of the Juncker Commission.


To achieve this, we plan to apply the existing rules of the Stability and Growth Pact to strengthen the links between structural reforms, fiscal responsibility and investment.


However, knowing that an additional effort was necessary to revive investment in Europe, the Commission has launched an ambitious investment plan.


The Investment Plan foresees a smart mobilisation of public and private sources of finance - at least €315 billion over the next three years.


It will focus on long-term, large-scale European investment to create jobs. The essential part of the Investment Plan is the European Fund for Strategic Investment, commonly known as EFSI.


An important part is targeted on SMEs to give a boost to the real economy: One quarter of the EFSI resources will be used to support risk finance for SMEs and mid-cap companies, leading to investments of approximately €75 billion.