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Commission lays out SME measures for next funding period

As the launch date for a new round of Community funding programmes approaches, European Commissioners have been explaining how small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) can claim their share of the available grants.

On 1 January 2007, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) f...

Policy making and guidelines

As the launch date for a new round of Community funding programmes approaches, European Commissioners have been explaining how small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) can claim their share of the available grants.

On 1 January 2007, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research and technological development is due to start, along with the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP), and the next round of the structural and cohesion funds, which will have greater emphasis on growth and jobs.

At a half-day conference in Brussels on facilitating SME access to EU programmes on 11 October, Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry policy, said: 'We have paid particular attention to SMEs when designing the new EU programmes for supporting entrepreneurship, innovation and research in line with the 'Think small first' principle. As a result, SMEs' access to EU funding will improve.'

Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik also recognised the importance of increasing accessibility for SMEs: 'For FP7 to be truly successful, SMEs will have to play an increasing role and in so doing will enhance European research, generate greater economics of scale and further develop their own long-term potential,' he said. 'This will be achieved through increased funding, more inclusive programmes and making it easier for SMEs to participate in European research.'

FP7 will allocate some 15% of its increased budget to projects involving SMEs. Changes to the programme's tools and procedures are also intended to encourage small companies to get involved: the rules for participation have been simplified so that legal and financial rules are interpreted more consistently; more user-friendly solutions for guarantees have been found, and simpler evaluation and selection procedures will be introduced. The Commission is also introducing a 'consultancy voucher', which will allow SMEs to test the feasibility of their ideas before applying for EU funding.

From 1 January 2007, the Commission also plans to invest between 60 and 65% of its cohesion funding in programmes intended to boost growth and employment. Involving SMEs fully in regional policy is a priority for the new period, and in order to ensure that this is achieved, a 'Joint European Resource for Micro to Medium Enterprises', JEREMIE, has been developed.

In addition, SMEs will be eligible for support, irrespective of their location. This will facilitate the development of clusters and cooperation between businesses and universities in areas which, until now, have not directly benefited from European regional policy funding.

The Commission is also in the process of reviewing State Aid rules to allow greater flexibility and to provide more targeted assistance to SMEs, for example for innovation, and the recently adopted guidelines for regional aid for 2007 to 2013 introduce a new form of aid, comprising incentives to support business start-ups and the early stage development SMEs.

As the Commissioner responsible for regional policy, Danuta Hübner, said: 'In an open economy, factors of competitiveness are no longer bound to costs or natural or geographical advantages, but to the capacity to create new goods and services in response to quickly changing needs of our citizens: SMEs are the drive to achieve that quick change.'