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Community actions affecting SMEs

The European Commission has published a report on Community actions to assist SMEs and the craft sector (COM(94) 221 final). The first part of the report focuses on specific actions under the heading of enterprise policy. The second part concerns the coordination of the activi...
The European Commission has published a report on Community actions to assist SMEs and the craft sector (COM(94) 221 final). The first part of the report focuses on specific actions under the heading of enterprise policy. The second part concerns the coordination of the activities in favour of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The purpose of the second part of the report is to establish an overview of Community interventions and programmes that favour SMEs but which are not within the framework of the SME multiannual programme.

The bulk of support given by the EU to SMEs is carried out through the Structural Funds in the form of co-financing with the object of assuring economic and social cohesion within the European Union. The financial support to SMEs is also effected through EIB global loans and New Community Instrument loans.

From 1989 until 1993 the estimated amount provided for enterprises from the Community Support Framework (CSF) and other measures was 6 billion, which represents 13% of the CSF budget. The growing use by SMEs of the Structural Funds requires an increased visibility of the measures favouring SMEs, a greater involvement by SME intermediaries and a simplification of the grant aid procedures. The expanded partnership provided for between the Commission, the Member States, the local or regional authorities and the social and economic partners will improve the Structural Fund operations in favour of SMEs during 1994-1999.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) uses global loans to support small and medium-scale investments and particularly those by SMEs. Since 1988 nearly 36,500 SMEs have benefited from credits amounting to more than ECU 9.7 billion (more than 50% of the finance allocated to industry and services).

Research and technological development is a key element in competitiveness among SMEs. The Commission wants to encourage greater participation of SMEs in Community research programmes and to set up the means to facilitate the diffusion of new technologies.

There is a 32% rate of involvement of SMEs in industrial orientated programmes, such as BRITE/EURAM, with an allocation of 25% of available funds. This shows a growing participation of SMEs in this area.

Regarding information and telecommunications technologies, SME participation has been on the increase since the ESPRIT programme took off in 1980. The rate of SME participation in projects has now reached 80% for communications technologies, 65% for information technologies, and 95% for telematics.

Most of the SME partners in the projects are from high-tech or technology-intensive sectors of industry. They are RTD service providers or semi-finished goods manufacturers and are essentially involved in the development of RTD applications.

A total of 300 SMEs have benefited from the VALUE-SME pilot scheme to a total of ECU 2.1 million. The aim of VALUE-SME is to promote the transfer of Community research results to the SMEs themselves.

EUROMANAGEMENT-RTD enabled 657 SMEs to benefit from the intervention of 47 technological advisers who identified more than 1,000 RTD projects. By 1993 these projects resulted in the submission of 120 research proposals replying to Commission calls for tender, of which 35% were eventually selected.

Innovation and technology transfer measures for SMEs were carried out in the framework of the SPRINT programme. With a budget of ECU 90 million for 1989-1993, SPRINT has given support to technological cooperation between SMEs through inter-SME transnational cooperation networks and technology transfer open days. The diffusion of new technology has been helped by research and technology networks and specific projects designed to transfer inter-Community technological innovations.

Results concerning SMEs show that since 1989:

- 7,200 SMEs have acquired new technology;
- 24,000 SMEs have tested or evaluated new technology;
- 64,000 SMEs have become aware of new technology.

Altogether, a total of 95,200 have benefited from the SPRINT programme.

Other research activities outside the RTD framework programme have affected SMEs, for example in the field of energy (THERMIE programme) and transport (EURET).

The effective coordination between these RTD programmes has made it possible to establish the SME dimension of the Fourth Framework Programme allowing a greater transparency in Community RTD actions in the SME sector notably through joint promotion and coordination among existing networks.

A number of Community vocational training programmes are designed to raise the level of qualifications throughout the Union in order to master the process of economic, technological, social and cultural change.

Among these programmes, EUROTECNET (innovation in vocational training as a result of technological change), COMETT (training and education in technology), and FORCE (continuing vocational training) relate more directly to SMEs.

In EUROTECNET, 18% of the projects are targeted at SMEs. In COMETT, approximately 7,000 SMEs are directly involved, representing a 75% rate of SME participation and a total of 30,000 SMEs benefiting either directly or indirectly from this training scheme. Under FORCE, 1,250 SMEs or groups of SMEs are associated with projects, representing a 62% rate of direct participation.

Cooperation between SMEs is not limited to the EU territory. Within the PHARE programme, the Commission has put in place programmes for SME development with a budget of ECU 95 million that provides technical assistance to eight countries of Central and Eastern Europe and three Baltic States. This funding provides support services to SMEs, financial instruments and help in preparing an enterprise policy. The new partners in the Central and East European countries are progressively getting involved in the information networks and cooperation networks as well as in the partnership programmes (EUROPARTENARIAT, JOPP). The JOPP programme (joint venture PHARE programme) aims at stimulating the creation of joint ventures between SMEs in Central and Eastern Europe.

Cooperation with the CIS is carried out through the TACIS programme. Cooperation with developing countries is effected through the MED-INVEST programme for the Mediterranean countries, and the LA-INVEST programme for Latin American countries.

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