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SME Assembly 2022 — A Sneak Peek at this Year’s Programme (Part 1)

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The countdown to Europe’s premier SME event has begun! This year’s edition of the SME Assembly will take place between November 28 and 30 in Prague. Here’s a glimpse of what’s in store for those attending in person (and online!).

The SME Assembly 2022 will be hosted by actress Lejla Abbasová (Prince Caspian) and will be packed with educational workshops, masterclasses, webinars, networking opportunities, and inspiring presentations by key European figures in entrepreneurship and innovation. Numerous awards will also be presented throughout the three-day-long event in the picturesque Czech capital.

To kick-off the SME Assembly 2022, attendees will be treated to a tour of the headquarters of the European Space Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA). Later that day, Professor Luc Soete, Dean of the Brussels School of Governance (BSoG), VUB will deliver the Schumpeter ‘Innovation in Enterprise’ lecture. Jozef Sikela, Minister of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic, and Thierry Breton, Member of the European Commission for the Internal Market, will also deliver keynote speeches. Attendees can expect to hear from the European Commission’s Director for Strategy, Outi Slotboom, as well as other notable policymakers, on the final day of the event.

This year’s workshops and masterclasses will revolve around subjects like sustainability, digital transformation, and female entrepreneurship, amongst many others.

Throughout the event, the winners of the European Small and Mid-Cap Awards; European Enterprise Promotion Awards (EEPA); and the Youth Essay Competition will be announced. Attendees will also have the opportunity to network with one another during receptions, dinners, and breaks. All attendees both onsite and offline connect and network on the Promoting Enterprise app before, during and after the event.

This year’s event is fully booked. Download the Promoting Enterprise app to livestream and participate in the SME Assembly 2022 online.

EEPA Category 4: Supporting the internationalisation of business

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We have already introduced you to the first three categories in the European Enterprise Promotion Awards (EEPA). Today it is the turn of Category 4 – Supporting the internationalisation of business.

Access to international markets can play a critical role in the success of a start-up. With this in mind, Category 4 in the EEPA recognises projects that make it easier for enterprises, and particularly small and medium-sized businesses and start-ups, to get a foothold on international markets, both inside the EU and around the world, and to benefit from the internationalisation of their business.

Let’s take a look at the type of projects that have succeeded in this category in previous years. The Category 4 winner in 2021 was the Iberian Centre for Research and Forest Firefighting (CILIFO) in Spain. To expand Spain’s and Europe’s firefighting capacity, the Firefighting Open Innovation Lab-CILIFO (FOIL-CILIFO) accelerator is supporting entrepreneurs, technologies, companies and start-ups involved in forest management and forest fire prevention and fighting. The project offers companies the opportunity to test innovative technologies in a real environment, helps them find international partners to replicate their results, and provides legal advice and support in accessing European funding with the help of specialised mentors.

To visit the Supporting the Internationalisation of Business winners in 2020, we need to get on our bikes and head to Portugal, to meet with Portugal Bike Value, which is working to support and promote the potential of the Portuguese bicycle industry, establishing it as a player in the European supply chain. Portugal Bike Value is also promoting Portugal as a destination for foreign investment in the area of soft mobility. By investing in cleaner technologies that have a reduced environmental footprint, the project is also helping to support the European Green Deal.

Participation in the EEPA had a major impact on Portugal Bike Value. “First of all, it gave us a real perspective on the value of the project. Then, this victory gave us a major boost in terms of communication, both in Portugal and abroad. The EEPA awards are highly visible and boost the image of the participants.

So, what advice do the Portugal Bike Value team have for projects that might be considering taking part in this year’s competition? “In our experience, the best advice is – participate. As long as you have a solid, well-developed project, you can only win. The gains that you will receive in terms of experience and contacts with other projects are overwhelming. If you can reach the final, you will gain additional visibility and in the event of victory, then the return is massive.

From Portugal, we head northwards to meet with the Category 4 winners from 2019. HealthTech Nordic is a community of over 230 Nordic start-ups offering digital healthcare solutions designed to empower patients and revolutionise healthcare services. The HealthTech community creates connections between innovative solutions, healthcare and the global market by advancing ideas and pooling resources.

Asked about their EEPA experience, HealthTech were enthusiastic. “Amazing! It was really nerve-wracking sitting in the audience and listening to the presentations of the three category finalists. Both we and the project from the Netherlands were convinced that the Romanian project would win, their film was so good! When we heard our project announced as the winner we couldn’t believe it! Overall it was an amazing evening and experience.”

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Winning the EEPA award had a major impact on the project. “I posted about the win on LinkedIn and Facebook and have never before gotten so many comments and congratulations! The project’s lead partner organization Innovation Skåne also published several very engaging posts in social media as well as sent out a widely read press release. We also watched as HealthTech Nordic got increased social media attention after the awards, so that growth has been quite exciting to watch.

Your project could also benefit from EEPA publicity. If you are interested in participating, check out your national EEPA factsheet with all the information you need here.

In our next blog, we will look at previous winners in EEPA Category 5 – Supporting the sustainable transition. In the meantime, if you would like some more information, visit the European Commission website and get the latest updates on the Promoting Enterprise News Portal, and make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

Interview with Eurochambres President, Luc Frieden

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The pandemic has left the global economy with two key points of vulnerability — high inflation and jumpy financial markets. A few months ago, entrepreneurs were optimistic about 2022, according to Eurochambres Economic Survey 2022 (EES2022), saying that it would be another tough year, but better than 2021. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February and subsequent escalation and developments have, however, led to a significant change in this outlook.

A key challenge identified by respondents to EES2022 was the price of energy and raw materials. This concern has heightened considerably as a consequence of the geopolitical tension with Russia.

We wanted to find out more about this, so we spoke to Mr. Luc Frieden, President of Eurochambres. We had an inspiring conversation with Mr. Frieden about how some of the challenges SMEs are facing have intensified from year to year, but also about the specific needs of SMEs for the navigation through the twin transition and the priorities of Eurochambres for this year.

I. What are the biggest challenges for SMEs in 2022?

Many European companies have already been impacted by the crisis, whether by closing down their production and distribution sites in Russia and Ukraine to keep their workers safe, as a result of unprecedented supply chain disruptions, or indeed further increases in already historically high energy, raw material and commodity prices.

While Eurochambres supports the sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s military aggression, we cannot ignore the significant effect that they – as well as potential retaliatory measures from Russia – will have on Europe’s economy. Mitigating action is crucial to help European businesses absorb the impact. With the economy only just recovering after two years of deep recession, businesses need a favourable environment to help Europe get back on its feet.

The worsening of the overall situation of course strongly undermines business confidence, which showed a significant upturn a few months earlier in the Eurochambres Economic Survey 2022, based on responses from over 52.000 entrepreneurs in 26 European countries.

The survey showed that “affordable access to energy and raw materials” was seen as the greatest challenge for businesses this year, even before the impact of the Ukraine crisis.

The second main challenge that businesses highlight is the lack of skilled workers. The accelerating evolution of the labour market is exacerbating long-standing skills shortages in ICT and digital skills.

Labour costs rank third, followed by financing conditions, digitalisation of activities and lastly sustainability requirements. As most European Green Deal legislative proposals are still under negotiation, “sustainability requirements” are considered as a less important challenge for 2022. However, over the next few years, upcoming legislation in this crucial area – while primarily targeting big companies – will have an impact on SMEs and this needs to be measured and monitored carefully.

II. How did these challenges change in comparison to 2021?

The main challenges for European businesses identified for 2021 were labour costs, the repayment of debt accrued due to the COVID-19 crisis, and financing conditions. So energy and raw material costs as well as skills shortages are the two challenges that have heightened most year on year, while financial constraints abated somewhat compared to the height of the pandemic as businesses benefitted from a variety of instruments designed to increase their access to address liquidity shortages and stimulate investment.

These businesses challenges will unfortunately not be alleviated anytime soon. In the current circumstances, energy, raw material, commodity and product prices are increasing, and it will be critical to adequately support businesses financially, particularly in highly export-oriented sectors that need to maintain competitiveness.

The transformation to a climate-friendly and CO2-free economy requires great efforts from all companies in Europe. What do SMEs need in order to navigate through this transition?

Going green is not only a survival imperative, but also a business opportunity. For most SMEs, reaching zero or close to zero GHG emissions across the entire value chain would currently be very difficult. SMEs may not have the in-house sustainability expertise, time or resources to address their carbon footprint, and may find it difficult to measure and reduce value-chain emission reductions in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

The EU’s strategy of diversifying energy suppliers as quickly as possible, particularly with liquified natural gas deliveries from the US and the Middle East, is welcome. We must ensure that there is enough energy for consumers and businesses at reasonable prices. Failure to do so would have grave socio-economic implications across much of Europe.

SMEs need tailored and clear energy transition policies that incentivise investments in renewable and low carbon energy and hydrogen-based technologies. Considerable investments in research and development will be necessary – be it to align products with new requirements or new technologies – and they must come from both the private and the public sectors.

On the way to climate-neutrality, companies need planning security, a simple and clear legislative framework and minimised administrative burden, especially for SMEs.

To take the example of the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting, we believe that in the case of smaller companies, reporting should be exclusively voluntary as the scarcity of relevant information reported by smaller players is overwhelmingly linked to high costs and difficulties when it comes to illustrating ESG risks, scale breadth and complexity. Member States must adopt a bottom-up approach and uphold the use of the simplified standard across the supply chain, instead of forcing small businesses to comply with disproportional reporting requirements pushed by larger suppliers or buyers.

Moreover, competitiveness for European companies must be ensured, especially as long as other major economies have not reached and implemented equally ambitious measures in terms of climate policies.

Financing is a key prerequisite for SMEs to green their business models and drive the transition through eco-innovations; yet many small businesses lack the human and financial resources to undertake green actions.

European businesses are experiencing significant skill shortages, which will worsen as a result of the green transition. To avoid overburdening companies, which already fund most of employee training, new solutions must balance contributions while ensuring that training opportunities remain in line with labour market demands.

The green transition will be successful only if businesses receive the assistance they require to prepare their employees for new challenges and market developments.

III. What are the priorities of Eurochambres under your presidency?

Although this was not something I could have envisaged when my term started in January, our priorities right now relate to the war in Ukraine.

Most pressingly, we are working with the chamber network and humanitarian aid organisations to provide supplies to Ukraine and help displaced citizens to settle in other parts of Europe, building on chambers’ expertise in the integration of refugees in the workplace.

We are also gathering feedback from our members on how the war is affecting European businesses. This allows us to work with public authorities to mitigate the economic damage, not least at EU level.

The conflict in Ukraine is relevant also to the legislative agenda of the von der Leyen Commission. Priorities, timing and initiatives need to be reappraised and potentially recalibrated in consideration of the new economic shockwaves reverberating around Europe, just as the impact of the pandemic was abating. Eurochambres can play a key role in this process by providing information from the grass roots economy.

The crisis impacts on the pursuit of the twin digital and green transition; we fully support this, but will work with the institutions to ensure that it is pursued in a manner that takes into account the unprecedented increase in energy prices and concerns about supply chain security.

We will continue to contribute actively to the rollout of the Fit for 55 package, especially regarding the crucial availability of affordable green energy (including hydrogen) and a global level-playing field in CO2 pricing, thus defining critical legislative parameters for the energy transition and decarbonisation of the economy.

Global problems require global solutions, whether this is combatting the pandemic or addressing climate change. In this regard, Europe must work with its partners in the G20, the relevant UN bodies and the WTO to find multilateral solutions. Climate diplomacy and efforts toward a global CO2 price should be actively pursued. Eurochambres will thus continue to advocate for global economic cooperation and a proactive EU trade policy that will cement our links with key global growth centres such as the US, MERCOSUR, the ASEAN and others.

I firmly believe in the need to deepen the single market, a crucial tool in strengthening the European economy. It’s reassuring that the binary distinction between the single market and digital single market no longer prevails as these two aspects of our economy are inextricably linked. Several legislative files integral to the ‘Digital Decade’ are at different phases in their evolution; Eurochambres is working on each of these and the French and Czech Presidencies of the Council will be instrumental in their progress.

For more information on these topics, please follow the Eurochambres website. For the latest updates on SMEs, please follow the European Commission website, our Promoting Enterprise News Portal as well as our social media Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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About Luc Frieden, President of Eurochambres

Luc Frieden is President of Eurochambres, the Federation of the European Chambers of commerce, industry and services. He also serves as Chairman of the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce.

Luc Frieden is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Banque Internationale à Luxembourg (BIL) S.A., Luxembourg’s oldest bank. In addition, he is a qualified lawyer (avocat à la Cour) and a partner with Elvinger Hoss, one of the largest Luxembourg law firms, where he advises on international corporate and banking matters. He further sits on the Board of Directors of the Luxembourg Stock Exchange.

From 2016 to 2019, he served as Chairman of the Board of the media group Saint Paul Luxembourg SA, the publisher of the leading Luxembourg newspaper. From 2014 to 2016, Luc Frieden was Vice-Chairman of Deutsche Bank Group in London and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Deutsche Bank Luxembourg.

For most of his professional career, from 1998 to 2013, Luc Frieden was a cabinet minister in the Luxembourg Government. He served as Minister of Finance, Minister of Defence as well as Minister of Justice.

During his ministerial tenure, he was Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Justice of the European Union (2005) and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the IMF and the World Bank (2013). He was a member of the Eurogroup and Ecofin Council of Ministers.
Luc Frieden was visiting professor in business law at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland and has published numerous articles on legal and political topics. He is the co-author of the book Europa 5.0 on economic growth in Europe.

He sits on the board of the Luxembourg Red Cross, the Luxembourg Bankers Association and is a member of the Trilateral Commission.

Luc Frieden graduated in law from the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and holds LLM degrees from the University of Cambridge and Harvard Law School. He speaks English, French, German and Luxembourgish fluently.

Key takeaways from EU Industry Days 2022

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This year’s edition of EU Industry Days brought together a multitude of sessions on industry challenges, opportunities and policy responses with a wide range of stakeholders. With a strong focus on SMEs, this edition opened discussions on their needs, the role of the cluster network, social entrepreneurship and the new SMEs fund, to name a few.

The event also focused on the role of young people in line with the Commission’s 2022 European Year of Youth in a series of uplifting conversations about social equality, youth unemployment and the precarious nature of work and the urgent call for sustainable and socially responsible business models.

The opening day of the event featured different sessions dedicated to the EU industrial ecosystems, the presentation of the Transition Pathway for EU Tourism, and much more. During an inspiring talk about SMEs participating in the transition, Sotiris Kopatsaris, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Future Hotels Sotiris declared that SMEs in tourism should commit to this transition in order to survive as a sector pointing out that a strategy and a change of culture in SMEs to commit overtime to this journey is much needed.

The second day of the event included different parallel sessions of the EU Industrial Forum and a range of exciting sessions organized by the European Commission, the Committee of the Regions, and the European Economic and Social Committee.

Among them, „Driving the sustainability transition for European SMEs: support to change and innovate”, a session moderated by Crispin Waymouth, Deputy Head of Unit, DG GROW, European Commission caught our attention. This session explored the main actions and instruments that should be deployed for the acceleration of the sustainability transition of SMEs.

Iraklis Agiovlasitis, Coordinator of Innovation Services, Enterprise Europe Network (EEN)/FFG Austrian Research Promotion Agency perfectly summarized the needs of SMEs during the twin transition: “What is of utmost importance in this sustainability transition for SMEs is access to know-how, access to finance, access to technology, relevant skills and, on top of that, international cooperation.

The third day of the EU Industry Days was the highlight of the event, with high-level plenary sessions and keynote speeches, and was the day we especially waited for as Kristina Dimova, our Youth Essay Competition 2021 winner, was invited to join an inspiring conversation with young entrepreneurs.

Just like in her winning essay, Kristina made a strong statement about the need to treat young employees as humans and not as tools that help companies gain profit. „In order to make a young talent stay in the company, the employers should understand that they should treat them as humans, not so much as employers who are only there to gain them profit.

The closing day of the event opened with a much awaited keynote speech from Petri Salmimen, President of SMEunited. SMEunited latest survey shows that about 50 % of SMEs report a decrease in turnover due to containment measures, lack of workforce or sick staff and shortage of material. SMEs have been hit hardest by the Covid crisis and it is time now to help them to recover and to master the green and digital transition. “We have to guarantee access to finance for the high upfront investments, technical assistance to understand what to change and how, support for eco-innovation without forgetting the upskilling and reskilling of the workforce to new competences”, underlined Mr Petri Salminen.

We also had an interview with Mr Petri Salminen earlier this month. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here.

For more information on this topic, please follow the EU Industry Days website, as well as our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

SME Support Instruments by the EU

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As 99,7% of the companies in Europe are SMEs, the EU has launched various instruments to help SMEs access finance, notably financial instruments (loans, guarantees and venture capital) and grants (collaborative actions and the SME instrument) in order to recover and build up the resilience after the Covid-19 crisis.

During the SME Assembly 2021, these instruments were largely discussed and a dedicated workshop took place focusing solely on this topic.

With the participation of Maarit Nyman (DG Grow Deputy Head of the SME Unit), Igor Kalinic (EISMEA) and Salvatore Amico Roxas (DG Grow Access to Finance Unit), the workshop looked at the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and opportunities for SMEs with a special focus on the Single Market Programme (SMP), The European Innovation Council and Invest EU Programme.

We invite you to watch the session and find out which instruments are most suitable for your enterprise.

Here is what we noted down during the workshop:

The Single Market Programme focuses on strengthening the governance of the internal market, supporting the competitiveness of industry and in particular of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), promoting human, animal and plant health and animal welfare and establishing the framework for financing European statistics. With €4.2 billion over the period of 2021-2027, out of which 1 billion is destined to SMEs, it provides an integrated package to support and strengthen the governance of the single market.

To be more specific, the SME pillar of the Single Market Programme will first ensure the continuity of the implementation of the most impactful actions of the COSME programme, in particular supporting a better access to markets, a more favourable business environment and promoting entrepreneurship. It aims to foster the competitiveness, capacity building and sustainability of enterprises, especially SMEs, including the tourism sector, highly affected by the pandemic.

On the other hand, the European Innovation Council (EIC), established under the EU Horizon Europe programme, has a budget of €10.1 billion to support game changing innovations throughout the lifecycle from early stage research, to proof of concept, technology transfer, and the financing and scale up of start-ups and SMEs.

Last, but not least, Invest EU Fund, part of Invest EU Programme, is a single fund bringing together the many different EU-level financial instrument and it aims, among other things, facilitating access to finance for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs), small mid-cap companies. This includes capital support for SMEs that were negatively affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

For more information on these topics, please follow the European Commission website, for the latest updates, follow Promoting Enterprise News Portal as well as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

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