Let’s get to work! Au travail!

A first major project since our campaign started, is a discussion in the European Parliament on a new EU programme to support SMEs

“COSME 2014-2020″ is the title of the PowerPoint presentation that Daniel Calleja Crespo, the general director at the European Commission in charge, showed this Monday to a big audience at the EP in Brussels. At first glance the title reads like a project for EU space policy, but it stands for “Competitiveness of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises” – and there we go with our campaign!

COSME is intended to continue the non-innovation aspects of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) which runs, with a special focus on SMEs, from 2007 to 2013 with an overall budget of € 3.6 billion. The other elements of CIP will be continued within the next framework programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020.

COSME’s foreseen budget of  € 2.5 billion  for seven years shall be invested in order to help SMEs tackle their main problems. It’s great to see that three out of four specific objectives almost perfectly match the three pillars of the ALDE manifesto to boost SME (smart regulation & simplification of rules, easier financing, improved market access).

As one of the main problems for SMEs, the Commission has identified the lack of liquidity. Up to 700.000 SMEs face this acute problem (about a third of all CIP applicants!). Therefore the budget aimed to facilitate access to finance for SME will amount to 1.4 billion € (i.e. they will double compared to CIP).  The other main problems to work on regard the difficult access to new markets inEuropeand elsewhere and the bureaucratic and cultural barriers to entrepreneurship.

The EP rapporteur for the report on the foreseen programme is Jürgen Creutzmann, who, by happy coincidence, is also the responsible MEP for ALDE’s “Boost SME” campaign. Even before Calleja Crespo took the floor, Creutzmann presented his ideas to improve the programme.

Regarding the targets, the German MEP wants to concentrate the relatively limited resources of the programme on competitiveness, while the objective of sustainability should be covered by the better equipped Horizon 2020 (total budget: €  80 billion!).

Concerning financial instruments, Creutzmann sees the need to draw a clearer line between these two big programmes to make it easier for SMEs to know which programme is right for them. He mentioned the problem that Jürgen Creutzmann during his speech on COSMECOSME can only provide guarantees for loans up to € 150 000. In many cases, e.g. business transfers or start-ups, this is not enough. Guarantees for higher loans can only be provided by Horizon 2020, but only for innovative companies. This raises the question if Horizon 2020 should be limited to research-based innovation, while companies that are innovative in a broad sense (e.g. those who optimise existing processes) could be covered by COSME. However, such a shift would of course require a higher budget for COSME.

Furthermore, Creutzmann called for an overall improvement of the indicators which measure if the goals of an activity within the programme have been achieved.  He also asked to set more ambitious performance targets. For example, the SME test should be applied in all 27 Member States by 2017, not just in 21.

Various speakers from the EP’s Committee for Industry, Research and Energy showed their general support for COSME, but their input allowed a more differentiated view on what might be the outcome of the programme: Many mentioned that its budget should be increased; some argued that the scope should focus rather on middle-sized companies that have cross-border activities. Furthermore all members agreed with the rapporteur that there should be no preferential treatment for the tourism sector. The most memorable phrase was said by Angelika Niebler, a Bavarian EPP member, who spoke about the frustrating moments while meeting entrepreneurs back in the constituency when it occurs that a political process was so slow that it can’t help the SME: “People expect from us deeds instead of words!”

In this regard, the work on COSME marks not only the beginning of concrete actions from ALDE members in order to achieve positive results on the 22 goals indicated in our campaign manifesto. It also shows that often this work will be only possible in small steps, by listening to the needs of SMEs, and back inBrusselsin cooperation with partners in other political groups and business stakeholders.

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