SME Europe Forum 2023

By Triinu Viires
29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

On Wednesday, November 29th, SME Europe of the EPP organized SME Europe Forum 2023 at the European Parliament. The event, hosted by Members of the European Parliament, including Ivan ŠTEFANEC, Iuliu WINKLER, Angelika WINZIG, Sunčana GLAVAK, Jörgen WARBORN and Pernille WEISS, provided a crucial platform for SME leaders and legislators to engage in a dialogue on EU policies and challenges affecting small businesses. Our 2023 Forum incorporated the SME Europe Awards Ceremony, honoring outstanding SME stories and entrepreneurs who drive these businesses forward.

Following the welcome of Ivan Štefanec MEP, President of SME Europe, Member of the Committee on International Trade, the Forum proceeded with reflections on EU SME policies by Ivan ŠTEFANEC MEP; Iuliu WINKLER MEP, First Vice-President of SME Europe, Vice-Chair of the Committee on International Trade; Jörgen Warborn MEP, Vice-President of SME Europe, Member of the Committee on International Trade; Angelika WINZIG MEP, Vice-President of SME Europe, Member of the Committee on Budgets; Sunčana GLAVAK MEP, Vice-President of SME Europe, Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs; Riho TERRAS MEP, Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and Chairman of EPP SME Defence initiative. Concluding words were given by Dr Ingo FRIEDRICH, Honorary President of SME Europe.

Following the statements, the Forum continued with open discussion with SMEs and experts: Cllr. Michael MURPHY, Member of the EPP-CoR Group; Milena ANGELOVA, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee; SME Envoy of Bulgaria; Michael JÄGER, President of the European Taxpayers Association; Marcin NOWACKI, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee; Vice-President of the Union of Entrepreneurs & Employers (ZPP); Peter KOFLER, President of Danish Entrepreneurs; Glen HODGSON, President of Freelance Movement and Vincenzo BASSI, President of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE). The Forum was moderated by Dr. Horst HEITZ, Executive Director of SME Europe.

Ivan ŠTEFANEC MEP, President of SME Europe, opened the Forum by welcoming his colleagues and present SME leaders contributing to the growth, passion and innovation of the European Union. To continue, he identified three key challenges for entrepreneurs: access to finance, administrative burden and skills. He emphasized the importance of raising awareness about European funds and welcomed a new initiative for timely payments and stressed the need to prioritize the capital markets union for better financing opportunities. Mr Štefanec also highlighted the growing importance of digital skills and advocated for investments in this area and using European funds available for reskilling. The third priority focused on reducing administrative burden, with expressing satisfaction with efforts to cut it by 25%. He concluded with an emphasis on completing the single market to remove barriers for entrepreneurs and to benefit entire European community.

29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

Angelika WINZIG MEP, Vice-President of SME Europe, continued the discussion with her personal experience as an entrepreneur and she empathized with the challenges SMEs are facing and explained that her involvement in politics stemmed from a desire to address these struggles. Ms Winzig identified overburdening bureaucracy and reporting obligations as significant challenges resulting from legislation which is impacting SMEs looking to expand internationally. As for positive developments, she mentioned the Inflation Reduction Act and the Commission’s proposed measures to strengthen competitiveness and fairness for SMEs. In conclusion, she stressed the ongoing focus on empowering SMEs for improved EU competitiveness.

Iuliu WINKLER MEP, First Vice-President of SME Europe, focused on three key topics. Firstly, he highlighted the issue of overregulation, specifically a notable shortage of comprehensive impact assessments, raising concerns about actual and cumulative impact of the regulations adopted in the European Parliament. He expressed concern regardig the tendency of the parliamentary majority to limit focus on SME interests. Secondly, he proposed a moratorium on new regulations by the European Commission,  emphasising a focus on existing regulations, particularly those pertaining to climate change. Lastly, he emphasized the need for more efforts to open markets for SMEs by negotiating and ratifying additional free trade agreements.

Jörgen WARBORN MEP, Vice-President of SME Europe, expressed concerns about the regulatory burden and urged caution regarding the Commission’s promise to reduce the reporting burden by 25%. He emphasized the need to focus on reducing the overall regulatory burden by 30%, including actions at the national and local levels. Mr Warborn highlighted the importance of changing the mindset – as policy alone cannot achieve this. He praised entrepreneurs for their innovative mindset and called for a system that supports success rather than discouraging companies with excessive rules and regulations. European Union and the Member States should help companies, not punish them. He urged for collaboration between entrepreneurs and policymakers to create a competitive environment in Europe.

29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

Sunčana GLAVAK MEP, Vice-President of SME Europe, advocates for encouraging female entrepreneurship which holds significant potential for both economic and societal transformation, creates new jobs and industries. Providing women entrepreneurs with robust financial and institutional support is crucial. This support should align with the comprehensive implementation of the EU Work-life Balance Directive, empowering women to strengthen their market presence. She also warned that achieving a delicate equilibrium in pursuit of climate goals between essential actions and practical feasibility for SMEs becomes imperative. However, varying circumstances across Member States necessitate a balanced approach: between essential actions and practical feasibility for SMEs becomes imperative. However, varying circumstances across Member States necessitate a balanced approach.

29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

Pernille WEISS MEP emphasized the need for more women entrepreneurs in Europe. As the rapporteur of women’s economic independence through entrepreneurship and self-employment report, she believes the potential from gender-conscious investors to boost and grow more female-led companies is unfortunately unrealized hence the need of support for women to access finance, enhancing their self-esteem for fostering sustainable companies; she underscored the importance of backing innovative technologies that boost efficiency within European SMEs;  she also advocated encouraging the inclusion of young fathers in conversations about work-life balance and its influence on family dynamics.

29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

Riho TERRAS MEP, Chairman of the EPP SME Defence initiative, agreed with the previous sentiments expressed by his colleagues and noted his extensive 30 year background in a different sectors as a general. He brought the attention to the current world’s instability and insecurity and acknowledged the significance of SMEs as the backbone of many nation states’ economies, especially in challenging times like the COVID pandemic. Mr Terras emphasized the importance of cooperation and networks among SMEs and discussed the potential for SMEs to play a role in supporting countries like Ukraine during times of war – in the defence sector but also in providing with products, everything they need in the current difficult situation. The creation of networks and collaborations between SMEs is a key goal for upcoming SME Defence events. He stated that he advocates for finding ways and securing funding to support SMEs in the defence and security sectors.

Continuing with open discussion between SMEs and experts, Cllr. Michael MURPHY, Member of the EPP-CoR Group, Mr Murphy commended SME Europe as a positive force advocating for SMEs and highlighted the shared values with the EPP family – free trade, single market, entrepreneurship and the principle of subsidiarity. Mr Murphy brought up the crucial role of local authorities in supporting SMEs and helping them navigate crises. The involvement of local authorities in policy preparation, implementation and governance is very important and offered the support of the EPP-CoR Group in impact assessments and other initiatives. Addressing the challenges faced by SMEs, he proposed key ideas: prioritizing equity over debt, ensuring timely and precise responses to SMEs, developing SME-friendly tenders, addressing the lag in SME participation in public procurement, enhancing awareness of trade agreements at the local level and – fostering innovation and collaboration among SMEs. He concluded by assuring small businesses that the EPP has their support heading into local elections.

Milena ANGELOVA, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee, emphasized the challenges facing SMEs in the current shifting paradigm where competitiveness aligns with sustainable goals and geopolitical considerations. She agreed with the need to cut report obligations by 25% but raised concerns about the practicality given the extensive information points in the recently published standards. She proposed two key ideas: first, a pledge for SMEs to voluntarily adhere to the maximum information requirements outlined in the SME reporting standard. Second, advocating for transition periods into directives, to ensure SMEs can comply without being forced out of the market prematurely. She also emphasized the importance of effective impact assessments for legislation, particularly through the newly established European SME board.

29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

Michael JÄGER, President of the European Taxpayers Association, representing an organization with one million members and supporters, primarily consisting of SMEs, he emphasized the need for less centralization and more economic freedom at the European level. European Taxpayers Association aims to make Europe fit for the future and advocates for market-oriented policies, opposing nationalization and increased taxation. Mr Jäger outlined their fundamental positions, including a focus on reducing bureaucracy, promoting sustainable development, advocating for a fair tax system and ensuring efficient public spending. He stressed the importance of subsidiarity and personal responsibility, opposing excessive harmonization of wages, taxation and security systems at the European level. He called for a reduction in red tape, deregulation and comprehensive impact assessments to evaluate the impact of laws on SMEs. He also highlighted the importance of sustainable financing and setting new priorities instead of solely increasing debt.

29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

Marcin NOWACKI, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee, Vice-President of ZPP, highlighted three critical issues for SMEs. Firstly, the need for the actual implementation of freedom of services across Europe and removal of national domestic restrictions to enhance SME competitiveness. Secondly, he advocated for opening up the financial market across EU to increase competition and ensure better access to finance for SMEs. Lastly, he called for a rationalization of the pace of climate policies, stressing the importance of balancing climate targets with economic growth. Mr Nowacki urged a critical examination of SMEs’ ability to align with climate goals and emphasized the need for fair treatment and support in the face of climate challenges.

29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

Peter KOFLER, President of Danish Entrepreneurs, brought up the critical situation in Europe, particularly concerning technology and innovation, highlighting the threat from US and Chinese companies with superior technology, skills and funding. Mr Kofler identified bureaucracy, skills and funding as key issues, with a strong focus on the negative impact of regulations on innovation. He urged for a balance between regulation and deregulation, emphasizing the need to make Europe an attractive investment destination. He called for a single, cohesive European Single Market to harness the potential of over 500 million consumers.

29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

Glen HODGSON, President of Freelance Movement, highlighted three key points. Firstly, the importance of completing the physical and digital single market to unlock economic opportunities and talent in Europe. Secondly, the need to address the platform economy with a focus on avoiding forced employment presumptions, allowing freelancers to work flexibly. Lastly, Mr Hodgson emphasized rejecting the idea of a fortress Europe, advocating for increased cooperation and co-creation of policies and legislation, especially with friendly third-country democracies.

29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

Vincenzo BASSI, President of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe, emphasized the crucial role of the family as the first enterprise. Highlighting the demographic challenges, Mr Bassi proposed considering demographic policies as investments – rather than costs. He said that there is no financial capital without the human capital. We have to stay together, to join together on the first and most important issue, the demographic winter. He urged a shift in perspective and flexibility in demographic policies – and consider them not as social policies but as investments.

The Forum continued with the Awarding Ceremony, recognizing outstanding entrepreneurs for their exceptional journey and unwavering dedication to their respective fields. The recipients were acknowledged for their passion and innovation, seen as valuable assets contributing to the dynamic and resilient communities of Europe, fostering economic growth.

The winners awarded with the SME Europe Awards Certificates are:

David Olim & Baltasar Sousa from FootAR, Portugal.

FootAR, established in Portugal in 2020, is a ground-breaking company that specialises in augmented reality solutions for sports fans. Their mission is to enhance the sports viewing experience by providing real-time data and immersive features through their innovative mobile application. To deliver solutions for all the stakeholders in the sports industry, the company is collaborating with a lot of actors such as football clubs, federations or sport broadcasters.

Andreas Leitner & Karl Leitner from Kukla Waagenfabrik, Austria.

After being founded by Leopold Kukla in Austria in 1933, the company has always been led by the Leitner family, combining tradition and experience from nine decades with the improvement from modern technologies weighing devices for the construction industry.

Széll Levente & Széll Sándor from HEKTAR, Romania.

Agrosel specialises in the processing, breeding, and marketing of seeds, with a specific focus on vegetable and flower seeds. With a founding date of 1998, the company boasts a quarter-century of experience in supplying Romanian farmers.

Mart Ustav from Icosagen Cell Factory OÜ, Estonia.

This research-driven BioTech organisation, founded in 1999 in Estonia, focused on developing and commercialising mammalian cell-derived biopharmaceuticals is headquartered in Estonia the group also has offices in the USA and in Germany.

Lisa Bønsdorff Dalsgaard from GoodiePack, Denmark.

GoodiePack is a communication software for hotels, bars and restaurants, founded in Denmark in 2015. Through the GoodiePack Application, they are enhancing the guest experience which involves simplifying communication, reducing complexity, and enhancing both guest satisfaction and host services.

Dinko Martinovic from Klesartvo Martinoviç, Croatia.

This Croatian stonework company is continuing the thousand-year-old tradition of stonework on the island of Brač. The range of their activities is very wide from construction of tombs, decoration of buildings and interiors, making fireplaces to tombs and stone figures and stone souvenirs, using a wide span of high quality materials.

Marie Lommer Bagger from Measurelet ApS, Denmark.

Established in Denmark in 2018, this company operates in the MedTech/Healthcare/Life Science sector. It provides fluid balance measurements, utilising toilets, catering to patients, healthcare professionals, and contributing to the health sector and health economy.

Adam Brånby & Daniel Brånby from Woolpower Östersund AB.

Founded in Sweden in 1969, the philosophy of Woolpower is to create sustainable clothes for extreme weather conditions that can last over many decades. In relation to environmental responsibility the company tries to discourage the throwaway mentality.

Family Zikatanov from Villa Melnik Winery, Bulgaria.

Villa Melnik was founded in Bulgaria in 2015, producing wine with local Bulgarian and international grapes. As a family having older and younger generations they are trying to connect the old traditions of their Bulgarian location with modern international traits.

Līga Andersone & Valdis Liseks from Light lab LTD, Latvia.

Founded in Latvia in 2012, they are active in digital production services, with 11 years experience in producing 3D animations used for gaming, TV series, VR or art the company has collected a lot of experience and is constantly improving their products.

29/11/2023 – Brussels – European Parliament – SME Europe ©Philippe Buissin / Imagellan

Mihai-Dragos Ciobanu from EV Connect, Romania.

Established in Romania in 2009, they aim to establish a charging network for electric vehicles, streamlining the setup, management, and optimization of charging services. The company is particularly focused on fostering improved collaboration between cities and municipalities to create a more robust charger network, ultimately contributing to the increased accessibility and readiness of electric mobility.

Martin & Robert Herman from Powerful Medical, Slovakia.

Powerful Medical is a Slovakian company founded in 2017, providing AI solutions that enable medical professionals to accurately diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease. By using their application, one can get a professional digitised ECG report based on the information that one has shared with PMCardio.

Karel Kotoun & Jan Zvěřina from Green0meter, Czech Republic.

GreenOmeter is a tool designed in the Czech Republic in 2021 for companies, banks, or funds to assess their carbon footprints. The application provides immediate reports on how transactions can be positively modified for greater ecological impact. Through the utilisation of data from various countries, the aim is to enhance the sustainability of business transactions.

To conlude the Forum and look toward the future, Dr Ingo Friedrich, Honorary President of SME Europe, highlighted concerns about inflation and energy prices and the critical situation in Europe in the face of competition from the United States and China. He expressed a desire to shift away from the Green Deal and focus on creating a more attractive future for Europe with improved investment conditions and to support small businesses across Europe.

The publication of this document received financial support from the European Parliament. Sole liability rests with the author. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.