As we emerge from one of the most severe economic crises of the last century, its effects continue to be profoundly felt within society. It is clear that the balance of the economy must change. New companies - especially SMEs - represent the most important source of new jobs, creating 4.1 million new jobs every year in Europe, and have a key role to play in driving economic growth. Because of this, Europe needs more entrepreneurs and must build a new economy that seeks entrepreneurial solutions to our major challenges. However, the EU lags behind its competitors in entrepreneurial attitudes. Yet whilst only 11 per cent of European citizens are entrepreneurs, 45 per cent aspire to be their own boss. To unlock this enormous potential for jobs and growth, the European Commission has unveiled in January 2013 its European Entrepreneurship Action Plan to boost entrepreneurship at all levels.
In this context, UEAPME and ACCA organised in Brussels a roundtable chaired by Malcolm Harbour, MEP, on 22 January called ‘Unleashing entrepreneurial potential in Europe’. The panel of distinguished experts - including Massimo Baldinato, Member of the Cabinet of Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship; Nele Muys, Counsellor on Education and Training at Unizo; Rosana Mirkovic, Head of SME policy at ACCA; Mark Lange, Senior Policy Counsel at Microsoft; and Luc Hendrickx, Director Enterprise Policy and External Relations at UEAPME - discussed with an informed audience how to identify and remove key obstacles to entrepreneurial activities, support entrepreneurs in crucial phases of the business lifecycle and help them to face challenges.
The chairman of the event, Malcolm Harbour, MEP, said 'It is crucial to assess where the entrepreneurial potential can be unleashed and to develop the right frameworks to reward innovation. We all need to work together to keep the momentum going, and I look forward a fruitful collaboration with the Council and the member states to allow the measures entailed in the Action Plan, including the non-legislative ones, to become a reality.'
Massimo Baldinato, member of the Cabinet of EU Commission’s Vice-President Tajani, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship, presented the main pillars detailed in the Action Plan: creating a culture for entrepreneurship, namely through including entrepreneurship education and experience in school curricula; improving the framework conditions of entrepreneurship for potential and existing entrepreneurs (access to finance, second chance for entrepreneurs, business transfers, etc); and a special attention dedicated to specific groups such as women entrepreneurs, seniors and migrants. He echoed MEP Harbour’s call for collaboration and to maintain momentum, and informed participants that the various European Commission services concerned and EU governments will coordinate action and start joint work on the proposed actions already in the first half of 2013. He also made it clear that the implementation of the measures by member states will be monitored by the European Commission in the framework of the European Semester and the Annual Growth Survey. This is a crucial point for Commissioner Tajani, who is strongly committed to actions and results, not empty words.
The main conclusions of the panel debate indicated that an urgent shift in entrepreneurial culture and attitude in Europe is needed. All participants agreed that the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan is timely and entails many constructive proposals, namely in terms of entrepreneurship education and training, access to finance, second chances for honest bankrupt entrepreneurs and easier transfer of business, as well as fostering the better uptake of digital technologies and help connecting SMEs to the digital world.
However, they highlighted that the challenges will lie in their implementation and the resources allocated by member states, as well as a mobilisation of all stakeholders, including SMEs advisers, intermediaries, professional organisations and accountants, to win the bet of cultural change.
Rosana Mirkovic, head of SME policy at ACCA, said: 'Despite reinstating many existing ambitions and initiatives, the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan is still a very important document. It outlines one of the most critical success factors for Europe’s future competitiveness and it sets out clear objectives and timelines for developing a more entrepreneurial culture in Europe. Acting on this commitment and bringing Member States on board will require coordinated and persistent efforts, and the current economic woes mean that we have no time to waste. It was especially pleasing to see such wide support for Commission’s efforts which marks a very positive start for the Action Plan.'
Luc Hendrickx, Director Enterprise Policy and External Relations at UEAPME concluded: 'Now more than ever, it is time to engage society as a whole in order to change in the general negative public perception of entrepreneurs through practical and positive communication. SMEs’ advisers and intermediaries are already playing an important role in supporting and mentoring small businesses, and are looking forward to further raising awareness on and help promoting the added value of entrepreneurs. The success of the Entrepreneurship 2020 action plan will largely depend on their full involvement. It is also important to recall that numerous studies, including the ACCA study on growth entrepreneurs presented today, show that the primary motivation for becoming an entrepreneur is realising a dream!'
- The ACCA study on High-growth SMEs: understanding the leaders of the recovery is available via the 'Related Links' section, left of this article.