EU SME policy has to move from words to actions

New UEAPME President Rabmer-Koller presents SME policy priorities and asks for concrete actions

Ulrike Rabmer-Koller, the new President of the European Crafts and SME Association UEAPME, used her first appearance in Brussels to discuss future priorities of Europe’s SME policy with Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, Commissioner Avramopoulos, Members of Parliament and representatives from Commission services and other stakeholders. Today, at a meeting with international journalists, Rabmer-Koller expressed her satisfaction regarding the inclusion of UEAPME’s demands in the different policy packages presented by EC President Juncker – e.g. the Investment Plan. However, most of these policies are still at the announcement stage and only consist of headlines. It is now time for concrete actions to improve SMEs’ situation in Europe, allowing them to grow and create jobs. Rabmer-Koller will therefore intensify the cooperation with all EU Institutions. She also wants to improve the dialogue with other stakeholders like consumers and trade unions to achieve better results for her members, as she told MEP Othmar Karas, President of the EP’s SME Intergroup. Finally, she explained to Vice-President Katainen that, alongside existing policy packages, a horizontal and more visible policy approach towards SMEs is needed to ensure coherence and ownership of Europe’s SME policy. Rabmer-Koller’s priority for her two-year mandate is to improve the conditions for SMEs in Europe by ensuring better regulation and less administrative burden, facilitating access to finance, closing the skills gap and unlocking the potential of digitalisation.

Discussing the future of EU SME policy with EC Vice-President Katainen, Rabmer-Koller showed support for the general policy lines taken by the Juncker Commission with the European Investment Plan, Single Market Strategy, Capital Market Union and other policy packages. However, she asked to speed-up implementation, because “our SMEs all over Europe do not see improvements yet; on the contrary they complain about further increase of regulatory and administrative burdens”. She also raised concerns that, by integrating the policies for SMEs in different policy packages, “Europe may lose coherency in its approach towards SMEs”. In addition, she reminded that “the 20 Million SMEs will only support Europe if they know what Europe and the Commission are doing for them”. To ensure this coherence and visibility, UEAPME asks for a more horizontal EU SME policy approach.

The future of EU SME policy was also broached at the SME Intergroup meeting, chaired by MEP Othmar Karas. There, Rabmer-Koller referred to her experience with social partnership in Austria (her home country), and wants to initiate dialogues on priority topics for SMEs with other stakeholders. She said “SMEs need forward looking and pragmatic solutions and I am convinced that open dialogues with trade unions and consumer organisations will lead to better solutions than battles in the Parliament or Council”.

As for her priorities, Ms Rabmer-Koller emphasised that: “SMEs all over Europe encounter similar problems: high costs and efforts to comply with complicated regulations and administrative procedures, difficulties in accessing funding and shortage as regards qualified and skilled workforce. I will dedicate all my energy to achieve tangible improvements in those areas during my UEAPME Presidency”.

On better regulation, she emphasised that “SMEs want to see results now!” and UEAPME will push for progress in the review of existing regulations, the REFIT exercise. However, she insisted on the respect of the Think Small First principles by all legislators at European and national level. For the latter, she will intensify the cooperation with the SME Envoy network.

On improving access to finance, her aim is to get SME Finance Instruments to focus more on support for innovation and investments, both need long-term and risk-taking support measures. However, her main objective is to improve the capacity of banks to lend to SMEs, as they remain the most important source of finance for SMEs. Small local banks especially suffer from overregulation. “It makes no sense for Europe to also apply Basel III to the smaller local bank as it was designed for large multinational ones”, she argued in the need for regulatory changes for those banks most important for SME finance.

As regards the skills-gap, she promoted vocational education and training as effective instrument for the transition from schools to the labour market. “Experience shows that countries with well-designed apprenticeship programmes have much lower levels of youth unemployment”. Therefore, she expects more qualification efforts and work-based training for young persons with a lower qualification potential and for support to the companies making those efforts.