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Commissioner Papoutsis presents Commission activities in favour of SMEs

Speaking at a conference on "European policy in favour of small and medium-sized enterprises", held in Bologna, Italy, on 3-4 October 1996, Mr. Christos Papoutsis, European Commissioner responsible for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), outlined the role of the Commiss...
Speaking at a conference on "European policy in favour of small and medium-sized enterprises", held in Bologna, Italy, on 3-4 October 1996, Mr. Christos Papoutsis, European Commissioner responsible for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), outlined the role of the Commission in supporting this sector.

In July 1996, the Commission presented a new "Integrated Programme for SMEs", in line with the request by the Madrid European Council in December 1995. This sets out a global framework for all Community actions in favour of SMEs. This should contribute to the reinforcement of SME policies at both Community and national level, and to greater coordination and exchange of information between Member States. It also offers a framework for all the SME support measures developed under other horizontal Community policies (research and development programmes, training programmes, Structural Funds and support received through the various instruments of the European Investment Bank).

The Commission recognizes the difficulties that SMEs face with regard to having access to finance and the negative impact that this can have on the internationalization of their activities. With this in mind, a Round Table of bankers and European SME professional organizations was organized with the aim of developing initiatives which could help improve access to bank financing for SMEs and identify best practices. The final report and recommendations of this Round Table should be delivered to the Commission by the end of November 1996.

The Commission has also developed special policy actions through the Third Multiannual Programme for SMEs (1997-2000) which is currently under discussion at Council and, hopefully, will be approved by the end of the year. The new multiannual programme forms the legal and budgetary basis for specific SME policy actions over the period 1997-2000. It provides for concrete actions which will help to exploit SMEs' full potential for job creation.

Specific actions proposed under the new programme fall into five priority objectives:

- Simplification and improvement of the administrative and regulatory business environment;
- Improvement of the financial environment;
- Internationalisation of their strategies;
- Enhancing competitiveness and improving their access to research, innovation and training;
- Promoting entrepreneurship and supporting special target groups.

The Commission has chosen to apply a decentralized approach in this field and intermediaries throughout Europe have undertaken the responsibility of assisting in the implementation of the internal market objectives. Commissioner Papoutsis underlined what he believes to be the significant advantages of this approach: "First of all it has allowed us to upgrade a strategy with a European dimension through the activities of enterprises at local, regional and national level. (...) Moreover, the road is now open for the implementation of our proposal to transform the Euro Info Centres into "first-stop-shops". In other words becoming a first point of contact for SMEs, which are seeking community information but do not yet know an appropriate intermediary".

Helping entrepreneurs in their transborder cooperation activities is another primary objective of the Commission programmes and partnership instruments. EUROPARTENARIAT, as well as INTERPRISE, BC-Net, BRE and the Euro Info Centers, are successful instruments which allow businessmen to identify and contact possible cooperation partners in other countries.
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