“I welcome every event which calls for concrete actions for millions of European entrepreneurs and small businesses who are coming through very difficult times and at the same moment must face to many challenges – mainly high energy prices and digital and green transition, which are not only our future, but also our present.
Small and medium-sized enterprises still need to adapt to the disruption of “business as we knew before Covid”, look at their business plans and make decisions built on the extraordinary opportunities of the national recovery plans. This is all happening while still, let’s admit it, the next months’ operations are unclear and depending on our governments’ decisions.
Maybe there is one recipe, or at least some advice: crises are always an opportunity to learn and improve beyond limits that prove to be temporary. This could be a great moment for taking a new turn in business. The past year has brought a revolution into our offices, our factories and even our homes. Nobody could imagine something like that in 2019.
I think that the small and medium-sized enterprises have so far shown that they know what I am talking about. Many of them have used the crisis to make it an opportunity and a real chance to find a new creative paths or show an extreme degree of flexibility. Many of them proved their resilience.
"Maybe there is one recipe, or at least some advice: crises are always an opportunity to learn and improve beyond limits that prove to be temporary."
Remember how flexible SMEs were in the deepest crisis and very often managed to reorient their business from day to day, without much preparation, to the fields that were most needed. They were not afraid to innovate, be creative, look for solution and take risks. This is something that big businesses can only dream of.
Sometimes in many cases, the ongoing crisis has forced small and medium-sized enterprises to make decisions and take steps they might not have taken without external pressure. Sometimes there must be something that forces you to get out of your comfort zone and it creates an opportunity for you to take. Let’s look at digitalisation for instance. Telemedicine solutions deployment has increased eight times in a year, with a faster pace than it was ten years ago. Many public administrations have redesigned their procedures and offered simpler, more efficient online platforms.
Another good example. E-commerce proved to be a true “window of opportunity” for many SMEs, as we could see in the latest SME Performance Review published last July by the European Commission. Moreover, it showed how this pandemic really “pushed” for basic digitalisation in general, even for SMEs outside the digital sector. Where the customers could not line-up in real life, many entrepreneurs decided to sell on online marketplaces and reach an even wider community. Many have improved communication with existing and new clients thanks to digital platforms, and it increased efficiency. Many have started to use the social media and learned how to set the strategy for self-promotion and customer-targeting. This is something nobody will ever take away from them. But what is important, and I would not like us to forget about it, in some countries SMEs were ahead of the online economy already before the pandemic – of course, with differences per sectors and geography.
Crisis has shown us one important thing. The main obstacle for business was the disruption of logistics. It revealed the small and micro companies still face difficulties in operating online or incorporating digital solutions. The reasons are (mentioned by SMEs themselves): limited human resources and the lack of skills – not only the digital skills of the employee, but also the lack of training for managers. Advanced digital skills will be one of the most valuable assets in the future.
Crisis means opportunities not only for SMEs themselves but also for us, politicians.
Last year when I was speaking as SME Assembly 2020, I told you that I was convinced that the importance of SMEs in our economies had been recognised at EU level. But being frank, the EU institutions have been promising a lot, but delivered too little. As co-chair of the SME Intergroup of the European Parliament, I came “back to work” from summer 2019 with an event in the Parliament. I wanted to look at the architecture of the “SME vision” for the new mandate. We lamented the “working in silos” routine, which is a problem in the European Parliament, in the European Commission, in the Council and in the national governments. We identified a goal: not having a SME policy but working for SMEs in any sector - be it tourism, be it tech, be it agriculture.
"Crisis means opportunities not only for SMEs themselves but also for us, politicians."
We also stressed how important it would be to structure the role of the EU SME Envoy - to act horizontally in Brussels and with the national Envoys. This event happened in September 2021, but we are in November 2021, and we are still without an Envoy.
With my colleagues in the Renew Europe political group, we published policy paper called “Our commitment to Europe’s SMEs” where we outlined our concrete priorities to protect SMEs in post pandemic landscape. It is de facto “political programme” of our a newly established permanent SME Taskforce. It includes MEPs from all Parliament committees representing several Member States. We have promised that we will always consider the European Commission proposals, legislation and other EU actions through the “SME lens” as well as prioritizing and promoting SMEs in policy work. We are also strongly convinced we need a strict application of the SME test which helps implement the important “Think small principle”, and we need a roadmap with clear timeline and milestones. A roadmap that will give businesses a clear idea of what will happen and what is being done for them. We are also stressing that SMEs need better regulation. I don’t like to hear the word “deregulation”, businesses don’t need just cuts, here and there, but they need a simple working environment, with proposals and reforms that foster competitiveness and progress for entrepreneurs.
I also subscribe the idea of applying a “one in, one out principle” to move forward the status quo. And, let me say it loud and clear, the work of policy makers cannot happen without a close dialogue with SMEs representation. We need to look together at what the “one in” is. It should be the one that has worked for the business and that we want to keep.
We need our governments to be working with us. In this sense I very much count on national Envoys to be powerful actors in promoting reforms nationally, across the ministries. As I said couple of times ago, we want more than words.
It is one of the reasons I have called for a “State of the SMEs Union”. This debate took place in the June 2021 in Plenary in Strasbourg and was given by the president of the EC Ursula von der Leyen. I want it to be a big appointment, every year, with the SME Performance Report at hand, with solid analysis of what is working, how to foster good practices...
In one word: how all the actors in the EU can work better, FOR SMEs, and not viceversa. Thank you!”