A group of 30 journalists from various EU member states gathered in Brussels at the end of March to discuss the future of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in a greener economy during a seminar organised by the European Journalism Centre in partnership with The European Commission.
Need for more energy efficient SMEs
The seminar “Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) for Green Growth”, included a press conference by EC vice-president Antonio Tajani, who delivered the results from the first in-depth Eurobarometer survey on the topic of SMEs resource efficiency. According to the survey report, the EU is home to ‘’23 million Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), representing 99 percent of all businesses and providing around 90 million jobs.” European SMEs, however, are responsible for “64 percent of the industrial pollution” produced in Europe and only “24 percent of them are engaged in actions to reduce environmental impact.” Tajani explained that the European Commission believes that “the future is green” and that a greener Europe will help European countries to get out of the crisis and become more innovative.
Towards a green economyTajani believes this goal cannot be achieved without “SMEs making an effort to promote green jobs, green products and green services.”
“Smaller companies can be more innovative and competitive if they invest in energy efficiency measures,” he said. “By creating new jobs and reducing carbon emissions and energy expenses, they would benefit the EU economy and help Europe get out of the crisis.” To a journalist who asked him how SMEs are to make more investments in a time of financial crisis, Antonio Tajani replied that by investing in energy efficiency measures, “SMEs would also be able to save costs in a near future”.
Available funding for SMEs
Several journalists asked the panel of speakers to elaborate on initiatives to support smaller companies and funding available for European SMEs. Mark Pevsner, from the European Investment Bank (EIB), said that EIB has set up “a fund to support SMEs”, adding however that due to the crisis the EIB also “needs EU budget funds to enlarge the capacity and effectively support SMEs.”
Smaller companies can also access funding through the European Commission, explained Joanna Drake, Director SMEs and Entrepreneurship at the European Commission. Drake however also indicated that “there are some difficulties in accessing finance and 11 percent of the applications are rejected.”
Fighting the red tape
The amount and complexity of the paperwork applicants must fill in are some of the problems, European Commission officers acknowledged. “We are working on the application procedure and trying to reduce bureaucracy,” said Silvia Bartolini from Tajani’s cabinet. “We also noticed that some SMEs don’t know anything about the funding programmes offered by the European Commission and we have to work on that too.”
Various EU initiatives aimed at implementing a greener economy among SMEs were presented at the seminar. These included pilot projects, entrepreneurial training programmes in schools as well as The Small Business Act (SBA) policy framework, which sets principles to enhance sustainable growth and competitiveness among European SMEs.
“With the SBA, the Commission is already engaged in a policy action in the EU to push for a third green industrial revolution,” said EC Director-General Enterprise and Industry Daniel Calleja Crespo. “But the challenge now lies in implementation, bringing awareness and support to SMEs on the ground,” he concluded.
By EJC intern Catarina Pinto