Last weekend I had the privilege of speaking at a conference on SMEs in Bucharest, hosted by my Romanian colleague from S&D, Maria Grapini. The theme of the conference was ‘The Future of SMEs in the context of Market Globalisation’. I spoke on the first panel, which focussed on the topic: ‘Do we need specific legislation for SMEs?’.
Representing the North West of England, a region that is thriving with small and micro businesses and includes the creative hubs of Manchester and Liverpool, I was delighted to be flying the North West flag out in Romania!
Present at the conference were many Romanian Ministers, Secretaries of State, MEPs and businesses. As well as the wonderful Maria Grapini, Anca-Laura Ionescu, Secretary of State for Energy, SMEs and Business Environment was particularly impressive. Liviu Rogojinaru, The VP and Spokesperson for the National Council of Small and Medium Sized Private enterprises in Romania (and the founder of four companies!) also made excellent points on procurement and tendering of public contracts.
The topic of the second panel was TTIP and how it will impact European Manufacturers and Consumers. My fellow S&D MEP, Viorica Dancila, made some great interventions, as did Peter Faross, the Secretary General of European Craft and SME Employers’ Organisation. Insightful contributions were made by Valentin Preda, the President of the Romanian Business Exchange. Valentin has visited SME accelerators in Manchester and is interested in the exchange of good practice, in terms of business support for SMEs, between the UK and Romania.
After an intensely productive day, I was then given a tour of the Romanian Parliament by Maria. As Maria is the former Minister for SMEs, Business Environment and Tourism, she was right at home. I also met the young Partidul Conservator; within the European Parliament, this party is part of the Socialist and Democrats family.
It is clear that an event like this is necessary for countries in the EU. This conference increased the confidence of entrepreneurs to get involved in European policy-making and brought many issues to the fore.
The conference also highlighted how the EU is good for SMEs. 85% of all new jobs in the EU between 2002 and 2010 were created by SMEs and 32.5 million people in the EU are self-employed. EU financial instruments put in place in 2007-2013 have made a positive contribution to at least 120,000 SMEs, helping to maintain 851,000 jobs since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. There is also European funding available, such as COSME, which will allocate €2.3 billion between 2014 and 2020 to strengthen the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises in Europe.
We need to make sure that access to these key strands of support are open to everyone who is considering starting a business or seeking to grow their business. We need to invest more in Research & Development and Innovation. And we need to dedicate increased resources and create innovative networks, bringing together universities, research labs and SMEs, to cover the whole value chain.
Finally, for SMEs to reach their maximum potential, more dialogue is needed between the public and private sectors, there needs to be more simplification and stability in the legislation process when it impacts SMEs and TTIP negotiations need complete transparency.
I believe that it is crucial that Romania and Romania’s interests need to be supported and treated as equally as any other country in the European Union.
Last but not least, I would like to thank Maria and all her wonderful staff for their hard work and for even helping me speak a bit of Romanian!
My speech in full can be found here.