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CREST Report on SMEs

At its meeting of 24-25 October 1996, the Community's advisory committee on scientific and technical research (CREST), adopted a report on SME participation in RTD activities intended to provide an important contribution to the preparation of the Community's Fifth Framework Pr...
At its meeting of 24-25 October 1996, the Community's advisory committee on scientific and technical research (CREST), adopted a report on SME participation in RTD activities intended to provide an important contribution to the preparation of the Community's Fifth Framework Programme for research and technological development.

The need to enhance the Community's RTD support measures for SMEs and to promote their effective participation in the RTD Framework Programmes has been recognized in a number of recent Council Resolutions and Decisions. The CREST Report on SMEs, prepared by the CREST Ad Hoc Working Group on SMEs set up in February 1996 under the presidency of the Irish delegate, Mr. Michael Fahy, puts forward a number of specific proposals as to how these aspirations can be translated into reality.

In preparing the report, the Working Group took note of the Commission's own comprehensive review of operating procedures and SME participation under the Fourth Framework Programme conducted in June of this year. In particular, it recognized that many of the issues highlighted by various Commission documents on this subject reinforce and, in some cases, anticipate the recommendations of the Working Group.

During the course of its work the Working Group considered the results of the Commission's examination of approximately 60 successful national measures aimed at enhancing the technological innovation performance of SMEs. The Commission's analysis of the schemes highlighted the factors which have contributed to the success of the schemes. The most important factors, which have been incorporated into the Working Group's recommendations, were found to be:

- A bottom-up approach focused on the real needs of SMEs (high-quality projects, low costs for SMEs, personal assistance, short response delays, reduced bureaucracy);
- Calls for proposals which operate on a continuous basis rather than intermittently;
- The use of two-step and pre-screening procedures;
- Easy access to information and assistance on proposal preparation.

In developing its recommendations, the Working Group paid particular attention to the main difficulties faced by SMEs in relation to technological innovation in general, and Framework Programme participation in particular. The recommendations are grouped under three main headings and include:

- Actions to address the financial issues for SMEs associated with Framework Programme involvement:
. Better targeted support for SMEs;
. Enhanced use of Exploratory Awards;
. Payment on "deliverables" instead of financial statements and invoices;
. Examination of the use of national composite rates;
. Reduced payment delays;

- Actions to facilitate SME access to the Framework Programme and optimize their participation:
. Feedback to unsuccessful applicants;
. SME involvement in consultation/assessment processes;
. Enhancing the institutional support for SMEs;
. Use of "first stop shop" or single entry point;
. Management of the Technology Stimulation Measures;
. Harmonized rules and simplified procedures across all programmes;
. Greater use of electronic/on-line systems;
. Industry participation in the TMR programme;
. Reduced delays between proposal submission, assessment decision and project commencement;
. Exploiting the results of research through mechanisms including technical demonstration activities, licensing and joint-venture formation;

- Actions to facilitate the development and handling of proposals:
. Explore the possibilities of open (i.e. continuous) calls for proposals in all programmes;
. More effective assistance for the establishment of consortia;
. Encourage large enterprises to foster the participation of SMEs in consortia;
. Encourage participation by clusters or networks of SMEs;
. The adoption of a two-step procedure for proposal assessment in more specific programmes;
. Easier access to information on relevant programmes and training on preparing proposals;
. Simplified form for submission of proposals;
. Harmonization of terminology.

The CREST Working Group considers that implementation of its recommendations, set out in greater detail in the report, will increase significantly both the extent and the effectiveness of SME participation in the Framework Programme. In combination with appropriate complementary measures at regional and national level to support the technological innovation activities of SMEs, these measures should significantly enhance the competitiveness of this key sector, leading to Community-wide benefits in terms of employment, economic growth and the achievement of increased prosperity.
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