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Funding Opportunities

A number of Europe-wide sources of funding are available to help businesses comply with environmental legislation. The European Commission administers some sources of funding directly, but more often they are channelled through national or local authorities.








The LIFE programme

The LIFE Programme is the EU's funding instrument for the environment and climate action. The Programme has co-financed over 3950 pilot or demonstration projects up till now, and contributed to more than €3.1 billion to environmental protection in Europe.

chart A new LIFE Programme for Environment and Climate Action has been launched for the 2014-2020 period and it has a €3.46 billion budget, up 43% from the previous financial period. The 2014-2020 programme is based on a new Regulation, also establishing the Environment and Climate Action sub-programmes

Recital 43 of this Regulation highlights that the LIFE Programme "provides the platform for developing and exchanging best practices and knowledge, improving catalyzing, and accelerating changes in the implementation of the acquis, and building capacity, supporting private actors, in particular SMEs".

The LIFE Climate Action aims at achieving a resource-efficient, low-carbon and climate resilient economy. The LIFE Climate Action will help implementing small-scale low carbon and adaptation technologies and new approaches and methodologies. It addresses mainly public authorities, NGOs and private actors, notably small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

SMEs have been significant beneficiaries in previous LIFE programmes. Support projects included:

  • Adaptation and promotion of information:
    1. Workshops and trainings to disseminate information;
    2. New information tools developed (e.g. web-based platform for Industrial Symbiosis);
  • Implementation of environmental management model and accreditation;
  • Monitoring of environmental impact of products; and
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  • Developing and establishing a model for Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP).

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    Regional Policy: Cohesion and Structural Funds

    There are a number of funds allocated by the European Union to support less developed regions (Structural Funds) and help the integration of European infrastructure (Cohesion Fund). They account for a large part of total EU funding and spending.

    Both mechanisms, in particular the Structural Funds, allow for substantial investments in environmental protection, especially for SMEs to promote environmentally friendly products and production processes. Environmental criteria are priorities in two of the five Structural Funds – the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF). The other three funds are the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

    The new Cohesion Policy 2014 – 2020 aims at supporting SMEs, notably through Cohesion Policy Funds that will promote entrepreneurship and support SME's growth. The objective is to double the current support around €140 billion for 2014 -2020. Regulation No1303/2013 in its article 9(3) also provides in its thematic objectives that competitiveness of SMEs should be enhanced.

    Specifically the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) was created to reduce regional economic differences and strengthen competitiveness, innovation, create sustainable jobs and promote environmentally sound growth. The ERDF focuses its investments on areas such as innovation and research, the digital agenda, low-carbon economy and the support for SMEs. The allocation of ERDF resources depends on the category of region. More developed regions have to invest at least 80% of funds on two of these priorities, transition regions have to invest 60% of the funds in this areas and less developed regions 50% of the focus.


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    COSME, EU Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs)

    COSME is the EU programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) running from 2014 to 2020. It has a planned budget of €2.3bn. COSME will support SMEs in many areas, including financing (loan guarantees, equity facility), access to markets and more favourable conditions for business creation and growth:

    Among other possibilities, the COSME 2014 working programme foresees that the Enterprise Europe Network provides support to SMEs on resource efficiency and that a resource efficiency self-assessment tool for SMEs is created.


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    Horizon 2020

    Horizon 2020 is the new EU's programme for research and innovation. It provides an easy access as well as simple rules and procedures for SME funding instrument, to which only SMEs can apply for.

    TThe new instrument integrates specific SME Research & Innovation (R&I) support of the EU Seventh Framework Programme for Reasearch and Technological Development (FP7) and the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP).

    Support will be provided in three different stages:

    • Feasibility part: Assessment of the technological and commercial potential of a project, where funding will be provided by a lump sum;
    • Innovation project: Activities such as demonstration, testing, prototyping, pilot lines, scale-up studies, miniaturization, design, performance, verification and other project will be able to be supported by a main grant;
    • Commercialisation phase: This phase will be supported through facilitated access to debt and equity financial instruments and other measures.

    The completion of one stage will allow an SME to move on to the next. A coaching and mentoring scheme is provided to beneficiaries of the instrument in order to equip the company with the skills and capacities for innovation-driven growth.

    The Eurostars Joint Programme is a part of the Horizon 2020 Programme. It provides funding for small businesses' innovation projects. Projects under the Eurostars Joint Programme can address any technological area – including the environment – but must have a societal goal and be aimed at the development of a new product, process or service. Applications are open on an on-going basis.


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    EIB loans for SMEs

    The European Investment Bank (EIB) lends money to commercial banks at attractive rates to support their lending to small businesses. Partner banks are required to loan EIB funds to SMEs at favourable rates, adding an equivalent amount from their own funds. For each euro provided by the EIB, the partner bank loans at least two to SMEs, thereby creating a leverage effect.

    It finances independent SMEs with fewer than 250 employees in the 27 EU Member States, for expenditures necessary for a small business to develop. Enterprises from most economic sectors are eligible for funding on very small projects to investments with a maximum cost of EUR 25 million, of which EIB’s contribution cannot exceed EUR 12.5 million.


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    Developed in cooperation with the European Commission, the Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprise (JEREMIE) offers the possibility to Member States to create a Holding Fund (HF), and within it to transform part of their EU Structural Fund (SF) allocations and national resources into various financial instruments to facilitate access to finance to eligible SMEs. JEREMIE Holding Funds, acts as an umbrella fund, by allocating resources to selected financial intermediaries and SME-focused financial instruments to support SMEs by means of on-grant instruments such as equity or venture capital investments, loans and guarantees. In order for eligible SMEs to benefit from JEREMIE resources, they must approach those financial intermediaries that will be selected by the EIF.


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