Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Previous programme


Successor programme


Programme funding

EUR 127 million

Official Journal Reference

L 25 of 1997-01-10

Legislative Reference

97/15/CE of 1996-12-09
To simplify and improve the administrative and regulatory environment of enterprises; to improve the financial environment for enterprises; to ensure better information services and help SMEs to internationalize, in particular by their Europeanization; to promote SME competitiveness, access to research, innovation and training; to promote an entrepreneurial culture and special target groups; and to develop SME policy and knowledge of enterprises.


This third multiannual programme in favour of SMEs is established within the framework of the Community's integrated SME programme which was adopted by the Commission on 3 June 1994 (COM(94) 207). Together, these two programmes are the main instruments for implementing the Community's policy objectives with regard to SMEs. Complementing, rather than replacing or duplicating, measures in favour of SMEs at Member State level, these policy objectives are focused on:

- Encouraging an environment favourable to the development of SMEs throughout the European Union;

- Improving the competitiveness of European SMEs and encouraging their Europeanization and internationalization.

The content of the third multiannual programme ensures the continuity of the actions pursued under the second programme (1993-1996) whilst, at the same time, strengthening a number of existing actions and introducing a series of new initiatives identified in the Commission's SME policy paper which was presented to the Madrid European Council in December 1995. The new elements which have been introduced aim at:

- Facilitating access to all Community programmes of interest to SMEs by developing the Euro Info Centres (EICs) as "first-stop shops";
- Strengthening the efforts geared at administrative simplification, in particular by introducing the cost-benefit aspect into business impact assessments;
- Ensuring better involvement of SME organizations in the decision-forming process;
- Encouraging and supporting SMEs to trade in international markets, in particular by improved networking facilities and enhancing access to market information;
- Identifying novel ways to better promote the technological adjustment of SMEs and their access to market information;
- Developing concrete actions for craft and small enterprises, taking into account their specific characteristics;
- Improving the financial environment for SMEs (access to loans, secondary markets for SMEs, late payment, factoring and credit insurance);
- Encouraging women and young entrepreneurs and businesses owned by minority groups;
- Encouraging a new spirit of entrepreneurship;
- Integrating the environment and sustainable development into the Community's Enterprise Policy (as set out in Article 130r of the Treaty on European Union).

In addition to complementing Member States' SME support activities, the third multiannual SME programme emphasizes the need to exploit complementarities and synergies with other policies conducted by the Community. In this context, actions in the area of transnational technological development are to be jointly managed with the Community's RTD Framework Programmes in order to improve SME's innovative capacity and to help overcome the difficulties many SMEs experience in accessing research programmes and exploiting research results. Steps are also to be taken to facilitate SME access to, and participation in, the global Information Society in conjunction with other, already operational, Information Society-related initiatives.

Whilst the primary focus of the Community's action in support of SMEs is on enterprises within the European Union, a number of actions to be carried out under this third multiannual programme (e.g. partnership actions) could be opened up to SMEs from associated third countries. This would be mainly achieved by using funds from other EU programmes, notably PHARE, TACIS, JOPP, MED-INVEST, AL-INVEST and ASIA-INVEST.


- To simplify and improve the administrative and regulatory environment of enterprises:
. Ensure consideration of SMEs' interests in the various Community activities and policies;
. Simplify and improve the administrative and regulatory environment of enterprises;
. Increase transparency and the spread of best practices on simplifying and improving the administrative and regulatory environment;
. Improve the framework for transnational operations of SMEs;
- Improving the financial environment for enterprises by promoting innovative practices in the field of better SME access to financing. Measures are aimed at:
. Improving access to loan and risk financing;
. Intensifying efforts to reduce late payment problems;
. Facilitating the development of specific financial instruments;
. Improving the conditions under which SMEs participate in the internal market;
. Stimulating the development of European capital markets for fast-growing SMEs (including EASDAQ);

- Help SMEs to Europeanize and internationalize their strategies, in particular through better information services:
. Develop information services (EuroInfo Centres) as "First-stop shops";
. Improve the promotion of SME policy actions;
. Promote cooperation through business search networks;
. Promote direct contacts through partnership programmes;
. Develop subcontracting partnerships;
. Promote access to new markets and internationalization of SMEs;

- Enhance SME competitiveness and improve their access to research, innovation and training:
. Increase the innovative potential of SMEs;
. Stimulate managerial training;
. Adapt to environmental requirements;

- Promotion of entrepreneurship and special target groups:
. Business culture and entrepreneurship;
. Craft, small and micro enterprises;
. Enterprises in commerce and distributive trades;
. Women and young entrepreneurs; enterprises run by entrepreneurs disadvantaged groups;

Improve SME policy instruments:

- Consultation of the organizations representing SMEs and craft enterprises at European level when policies regarding them are evaluated and drawn up;

- Improvement of statistics on SMEs without increasing the burden on enterprises; European Observatory for SMEs; studies; and data bases concerning SME policy measures;

- Evaluation of existing actions on the basis of efficiency criteria and development of proposals for new Community measures in areas affecting enterprises.


The Commission is responsible for the implementation of the third multiannual programme for SMEs, assisted by an advisory committee composed of representatives of the Member States and chaired by a representative of the Commission.

An indicative budget of ECU 127 million has been made available for the implementation of actions under the programme; this includes the operational budgets of all the different services, initiatives and actions covered by the programme (e.g. the EICs, the BC-Net and BRE partner searches, the INTERPRISE programme, etc.). In general, the Commission may provide subsidies for co-financing with other sources in the public and/or private sector (over 60% of the credits requested). Financial support is also available for studies, training sessions, running costs of instruments, information activities, etc.

The programme is open to the Member States of the European Economic Area (EU Member States and Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) and to those Central and East European countries which have concluded association agreements with the Community (in accordance with the terms set out in the additional protocols to their agreements governing participation in Community programmes). Cyprus and Malta may also benefit from the programme on the basis of additional appropriations and in accordance with the same rules as those applied to the EFTA countries.

Annual reports on the implementation of the programme are to be drawn up and submitted by the Commission to the abovementioned advisory committee. Upon completion of the programme, the Commission is charged with organizing an external evaluation report on the implementation of the Decision. This should include a cost-effectiveness evaluation and any proposals which the Commission deems necessary in light of the external evaluation. In addition, the Commission is required to compile regular reports on progress made on incorporating "the SME dimension" in all Community policies and programmes.


Economic Aspects
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