EU must help "Papa and Mama" businesses Jan03

I would like to thank the Greek Ministry for Development, the Secretariat for Industry and the European Commission for inviting me to Athens to address this Workshop on Small & Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs).

My family has run a small business for over a century. I worked in our family business for 30 years before entering politics. Therefore, as an industrialist and businessman, it is not surprising that I promote and defend the interests of SMEs, both in my Eastern Region of the UK and in the European Parliament.

The Lisbon European Council set the strategic goal of making the EU "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010". Whilst there has been some progress, we still have a very long way to go. 

SMEs drive economic growth – they train people with poor skills; they identify local needs and respond by producing or processing products required; they create employment, wealth and security for the local community.

What are the hindrances, difficulties and bottlenecks facing SMEs in the EU? Why are they not growing as fast as those in the USA?

Excessive red tape, high direct and indirect taxation, expensive and inadequate access to loans and grants, insufficient allowance for upskilling workers and lack of sponsored apprenticeships. In Europe,  “Papas and Mamas”, in their 50s and 60s own and manage their businesses traditionally – they are reluctant to invest in new technology because:-

a)          they suspect that the investment will not offer sufficient advantage

b)          they do not understand the scope and function of new technology in increasing productivity and expanding sales

c)          they have fear of security of supply, quality, payment and legal liability   

My European Parliament Report on “Impact of Information Communication Technology on SMEs” analyses the problems facing SMEs and offers a programme of action to stimulate them so that they can compete globally and help realise the EU dream to be the most dynamic and competitive economy in the world. 

  • Avoid excessive regulation of the eEconomy in Europe and apply the 'think small first' approach when formulating legislation.
  • Reduce the legislative and administrative burdens on businesses by simplify data collection, especially for tax collection.
  • Cut red tape, especially for self-employed people.
  • Build on measures already implemented to tackle online security issues by reinforcing the dependability and reliability of networks used by enterprises. 
  • Establish easy access to legal advice and certainty in cross border trade to ensure a European e-Economy.
  • Encourage “benchmarking” to promote and establish best practice to integrate SMEs in the eEconomy.
  • Encourage Member states to offer low interest loans and tax incentives to support SMEs.
  • Establish close co-operation between businesses, the educational sector and government agencies in order to close the IT skills gap.
  • Encourage EU citizens, especially the unemployed and the elderly, to acquire IT skills for employment to minimise import of foreign labour.
  • Reduce the security threat to businesses to encourage SMEs to establish online business.
  • Establish a clear and predictable legal framework for operating in the eEconomy throughout the EU, including access to legal advice on the applicable laws and codes of conduct.
  • Offer technical support companies financial and tax incentives to establish a network of services.
I hope we will soon have every EU citizen wearing a watch that is a combination of a PC, mobile phone and a LCD screen that will enable us to communicate audio-visually, process data, buy, sell and pay by voice mail, watch any sport and listen to our favourite music. Technology can offer us this today - let us use it to enrich our lives by producing more with ease so that we have less stress and more time for leisure!