Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission for Industry and Entrepreneurship, discusses the challenges and opportunities facing European SMEs.
EU Commissioner, I want to put industry and entrepreneurship at the center of the policy agenda and ultimately create work for young people in the region.
I believe that if it is to keep its social model, Europe needs more entrepreneurs. We cannot continue to let industry leave the region. That is why we have set ourselves a political objective: industry to account for 20% of EU GDP by 2020.
At present, this share is just below 16%. If we simply correct some economic imbalances, such as the one on real estate, there is room for more of the real economy.
Meeting the challenge
There’s no denying that, in the wake of the Eurozone crisis, European industry faces challenges in carrying out the necessary reforms to increase competitiveness. This tougher climate has made it difficult to invest in technological change, and global businesses have suffered from market finance, lack of demand and skill shortages.
These factors have triggered a lack of confidence and a lack of investment. Production is 10% lower than before the crisis and more than three million industrial jobs have been lost.
However, against this bleak backdrop, lots of work is being done to help businesses.
The European Commission has proposed the program for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs (COSME) to boost entrepreneurship and stimulate competitiveness.
It is concentrating about 60% of its budget on providing better access to finance through supporting loan guarantees and venture capital and intends to raise self-employment levels and encourage startups.
Through a network of more than 600 organizations, the COSME program will support access to new markets by providing qualified information, services and links to business partners.
We are also working to eliminate the damaging culture of late payment. Every year, thousands of SMEs go bankrupt waiting for their invoices to be paid. Member States must implement the Late Payments Directive in their national law as soon as possible to provide crucial support for our SMEs in the current climate.
We’re putting the right things in place for SMEs to prosper in Europe.
Reinforcing the competitiveness of European businesses is vital, and legislation linked to strengthening the single market will play an important role in this. We need to help companies tap the full potential of a unique market of more than 500 million people.
We’re also strongly committed to reducing the unnecessary burden of regulation and simplifying the business environment, and have opened consultation to identify the top 10 EU legislative acts considered most burdensome by SMEs.
Reasons to be cheerful
I’m very optimistic about the capacity of EU industry and SMEs to respond to the challenges. Europe is a world leader in many sectors, such as aeronautics, engineering, chemical and pharmaceuticals.
The region is also becoming an increasingly attractive place for industry, as competition in manufacturing is becoming less dependent on wage differentials.
To keep its social model, Europe needs more entrepreneurs.
New energy, information and production technologies could transform industrial production and markets in Europe - providing opportunities for entrepreneurs.
The Commission proposes six priority areas for development:
- Technologies for clean production
- Key enabling technologies
- Bio-based product markets
- Sustainable industrial policy
- Construction and raw materials
- Clean vehicles and vessel
- Smart grids
These are all markets where new technologies can deliver new products to increase productivity. That is why we are talking about a third industrial revolution and I look forward to seeing it.