The upcoming edition of the EU Industry Days, entitled “Unlocking the future: EU industrial ecosystems on the path to the green and digital transition”, aims to stimulate discussions across industrial ecosystems on their green and digital transition, in support of strengthening the resilience of EU companies including SMEs.
In this context, one of the most awaited moments is Petri Salminen’s, President of SMEunited, keynote speech on the 11th of February. The day will run under the Co-creating the green, digital and resilient transition theme and will include a series of meet-the-experts and stakeholder sessions.
After his election, in December last year, Mr. Salminen stated that the focus of SMEunited would remain on the recovery of SMEs following the pandemic crisis and allowing them to make the digital and green transformation. We are sure you are as curious to find out more about this as we were, so here is what Mr. Salminen shared with us on this topic, but also about the priorities of SMEunited for 2022 and the recently launched Annual Theme “Youth and skills”:
What are the main challenges SMEs are facing at the moment that keep them from making the digital and green transformation?
Many SMEs move very actively towards digital and green transformation. They produce eco-friendly products, install charging stations for electric cars, create mobile apps, set up a webshop, etc. However, EU policy has to provide the right framework for this transition and guarantee a level playing field for all enterprises.
For instance, to support small and medium enterprises to become greener, the next EU Environmental Action Program should include support for eco-innovation and for finance of upfront investments. Another example: the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and Organisational Environmental Footprint (OEF) with mandatory information about the lifecycle of products would disproportionally increase red tape and costs for small and medium companies. Therefore, I believe that it must remain voluntary, at least for SMEs and the Commission must bring to life its idea to provide SMEs with an easy-to-use and cost-efficient tool.
The same goes for digital innovation: SMEunited asks the Commission to ensure that all new measures and services allow small and medium businesses to grasp the opportunities of digitalisation. Yes, some SMEs are champions in developing new technologies. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs and workers do not always possess the necessary digital skills, and some companies, especially in rural areas, struggle with access to and/or speed of the Internet. Thus, SMEunited demands that EU policy takes the SME perspective into account. This means that access to data must be ensured, digital training is provided for and standards include SME perspective to guarantee interoperability. Programs like Digital Europe and Horizon Europe must include a percentage of SMEs.
What does a supportive business environment look like in this context?
Apart from a level playing field for all companies, the EU should raise awareness about sustainability to reach all stakeholders, including public authorities, citizens, and SMEs. For example, to encourage repairing goods the VAT Directive recently was amended to allow for reduced VAT rates for repair work. Now, Member States should use this opportunity to make this “incentive” a reality.
93% of all companies in Europe have less than 10 employees. So, I think it is fair that regulations have to comply with the Think Small First principle, thus, limiting burdens and developing legislation based on the capacity of the smallest ones.
Red tape and compliance costs remain huge problems for SMEs. They do not have specialists in their staff for HR and other legal services like big companies do. Entrepreneurs take on these obligations next to their core task, which is running their business. Focus must be on providing quality products and services to their customers, otherwise, they won’t earn any money. The fact is that only businesses that are profitable can invest in renewal and development. Thus, we at SMEunited emphasize that small and medium enterprises demand less bureaucracy and more legal clarity for the green and digital transition. The clock is ticking, so let’s do it asap.
What are the priorities of SMEUnited for 2022 regarding the twin transition?
In the next year, SMEunited will focus on the recovery of small and medium businesses from the pandemic crisis and their twin transition, supported by the funds out of NextGeneration EU. We must build an environment where SMEs can innovate, invest, flourish, and create jobs. European Crafts and SMEs are crucial to succeed with the Green Deal. This means we will be vigilant in the discussions on the Fit for 55 package, the proposals on the sustainable product initiative and right to repair, for instance.
SMEunited will also fight for fair and transparent rules for access to data and SMEs’ activity on digital platforms. SME friendly standards will also have a key role in a smooth transition.
SMEunited just launched the new Annual Theme “Youth and skills”. What made you focus on youth entrepreneurship this year and what is the aim of this new theme?
We decided that it would be a good idea to focus on ‘Youth and skilled workforce’ and thus to work in unison with the European Commission that made 2022 the European Year of Youth. SMEunited will showcase the significant role played by Crafts and SMEs in Vocational Education and Training to equip young people with the right skills to thrive in the labour market. If young people receive apprenticeships in Crafts and SMEs, they experience a smoother transition from school to work. Small and medium companies can also cooperate with vocational schools and training centres to inform them what skills are needed for Crafts and SMEs. We will continue to promote youth entrepreneurship to incentivise young women and men to create their own businesses or continue the work of another entrepreneur after a business transfer.
We invite you to attend Mr. Salminen’s inspiring keynote speech on the 11th of February starting 9:45 CET by registering here. The 2022 edition of the EU Industry Days takes place in hybrid format and it gives you the possibility to join the conference online, from anywhere in the world. The full programme of Eu Industry days 2022 is available here.
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