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Craft and small enterprises: Keys to growth and employment in Europe

The European Commission, on the initiative of Mr. Christos Papoutsis, Commissioner responsible for enterprise policy, has recently adopted a Communication on the results of the "Second European Conference on Craft and Small Enterprises"(COM(95)498 final). The report is intende...

The European Commission, on the initiative of Mr. Christos Papoutsis, Commissioner responsible for enterprise policy, has recently adopted a Communication on the results of the "Second European Conference on Craft and Small Enterprises"(COM(95)498 final). The report is intended to serve as basis for a wide-ranging debate on the key role of craft and small enterprises in creating jobs. It is hoped that it will result in the definition of a number of priority measures or recommendations to the Member States for the implementation of the conclusions of the conference. Commenting on the report, Mr. Papoutsis noted that "The European Commission wishes to combine efforts with the Member States in order to improve the development and strengthen the competitiveness of these European enterprises so that they can meet the increasing challenge of creating jobs and reducing unemployment". The Communication, entitled "The Craft Industry and Small Enterprises, Keys to Growth and Employment in Europe", responds to the Council's request to the Commission, formulated in its Resolution of 10 October 1994, to analyse the results of the Second European Conference on the Craft Industry and Small Enterprises, held in Berlin on 26 and 27 September 1994, and to present a report on the follow-up which it intends to give to these conclusions and on any initiatives which could be recommended to the Member States. The participants at the Berlin Conference formulated a number of requests to the European Commission, other European institutions and to the Member States. The Commission has initially selected ten measures which appear to have high priority and will specify further the actions to be taken under the third pluri-annual programme in favour of SMEs (1997-2000). It has also identified five themes under which recommendations could be made to the Member States for implementing the results of the Berlin Conference.The ten measures selected are: - Administrative simplification: Continue the action already undertaken, take into account as much as possible in new European legislation the situation and the limited resources of SMEs, increase the transparency of programmes and simplify the procedures for taking part in Community programmes; - Integration of SMEs in the Internal Market: Improve participation in standards, support the relevant national SME organizations networking to create systems of certification and follow-up measures to the EUROMANAGEMENT Action; - Support of cross border trade services: As a strengthening of the ongoing pilot action operated by the Commission, support for the creation of cross-border development offices for the intra-Community borders; - Transnational cooperation: Strengthen the transnational cooperation of SMEs, supported by organizations which help companies get in touch with each other; - Improving international competitiveness: Initiate and implement cooperation with organizations and companies in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Mediterranean countries as well as support of a small number of actions to facilitate the participation in trade shows in third countries; - Vocational training and perfecting of skills: Training of intermediaries on European issues, support for the construction of European networks of female heads of businesses and their training in order to better make them understand the challenges offered by the Internal Market, support for the creation of a European network of placement of young craftsmen to facilitate internships for further training in SMEs in other Member States; - Common development of qualifications: Encouragement of the launch, by CEDEFOP, of work on the common development of qualifications in order to facilitate European recognition of diplomas and the elaboration of European diplomas; - Integration of SMEs in the Information Society: Allowing professional organizations to help SMEs to better take advantage of the numerous possibilities offered by new information technologies; - Improvement of access to financing: Development of mutual guarantee schemes and stimulation of the bank-enterprise cooperation; - Improving the awareness, visibility and representativeness of SMEs: Support for the setting up of a European organization to act as a centre for information and the exchange of views for the sector, co-financing of competitions for young European craftsmen and establishment of a European prize of craftsmanship, improvement of the economic role of the sector, allocation of a more important role to craft- and small businesses in the administrative committees of Community programmes, including more systematic consultation of intermediate organizations. With regard to the possible recommendation to be made to Member States, the Commission is aware of the need to take into account the major differences at national level in the organization, traditions, regulations and representativity of craft and small enterprises. Several recommendations can nevertheless be formulated, which at this stage will primarily concern improvements in the exchange of best practice: - Within the framework of certain community policies, including regional policies, recognize the role and responsibility of the organizations representing the craft industry and small enterprises in providing training, support and links with local, regional and national consultative bodies; - Promote the introduction of apprenticeship schemes and sandwich courses; - Create the right conditions for small businesses and craft firms for a strengthening of the spirit for enterprise creation, in particular by developing a pedagogic method and a new approach to include the spirit of business creation into the educational systems, from primary school through university; - Creation of a positive environment for support to new entrepreneurs and recently created enterprises, in particular through the exchange of experience (especially in the field of finance and management) so as to improve the chances of survival of newly established craft firms; - Recommendation to the European and national normalization authorities to introduce a business assessment form procedure for SMEs in the field of standardization.