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Monday, 2 March 2015

Making it happen for Chemical SMEs

On 24 February the European Chemical Regions Network (ECRN) organised a workshop in Brussels on “Small and Medium- sized enterprises, the engine of the European Industry”. The workshop took place at the Committee of the Regions and SusChem was there to present its activities in support of SMEs in the chemical industry across Europe.

The event was hosted by the Committee of the Regions and was opened by Mr. Hartmut Moellring, ECRN President and Minister of Science and Economic Affairs, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany and Karl-Uwe Buetof, ECRN Vice President and Director, Ministry of Economic Affairs, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Both ECRN spokesmen stressed the importance of SMEs in Europe, which represent more than 95% of the total industry with slightly differences depending on the specific sectors.

SusChem supports SMEs
Cristina Gonzalez (pictured below) from Feique (the Spanish Federation of Chemical Industries) and the Secretariat of SusChem Spain presented on behalf of SusChem and talked about “Chemical SMEs, making it happen”. The percentage of SMEs in the European chemical industry is more than 95%, with a similar figure for Spain itself.

She presented Cefic and Feique, and explained the role of SusChem, the European Technology Platform on Sustainable Chemistry and its network of National Technology Platforms. She highlighted how Feique and SusChem Spain can help Spanish SMEs in addressing regulation and other aspects having an impact in their daily business activities, such as raising awareness and training them in aspects of the REACH legislation; and the open innovation portal (SusChem innova) to facilitate consortia building.

Finally she presented the SusChem project “Skills needed for Innovation”, a survey run among larger chemical companies to identify skill gaps and requirements. The results of this survey had also been validated with SMEs. She described the SusChem programme “Educate to Innovate” that is focused on exploiting innovation results from R&I projects, enhancing innovation skills and engaging industry and higher education institutions. You can download her presentation here.

Regions for SMEs
Earlier Thomas Wobben, Director of Horizontal Networks and Studies, Committee of the Regions talked about the key role of regional authorities in supporting SMEs. He announced the adoption of the Energy package for Europe to be approved in the Spring Council which will have a significant impact on the Chemical Industry as one of Europe’s major energy users.

The Committee of the Regions interact very closely with the EU regions to promote entrepreneurship in SMEs and to develop fitness assessments on how regulations affect the activities of small and medium companies.

The Small Business Act (SBA) adopted by the EU Commission aims to address the needs of Europe SMEs by establishing 10 principles to guide the implementation of EU policies. Skills and innovation, together with public support for their needs and facilitating information provision are amongst the key principles included.

The Committee of the Regions launched the European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) Award label to facilitate the implementation of the “Small Business Act for Europe” at regional and local levels. This project identifies and rewards European regions with excellent entrepreneurial visions with the label of “Entrepreneurial region of the year”. Some recent winners include the regions of County Kerry (Ireland, EER 2011); Murcia (Spain, EER 2011); State of Brandenburg (Germany, EER 2011) and Southern Denmark (Denmark, EER 2013).

Commission view
Joanna Drake, Director of Entrepreneurship and SMEs at the European Commission DG Growth highlighted the importance of SMEs for the European economy with more than 20 Million companies. She argued that complicity is the key to success; complicity with EU Institutions, National and Regional authorities, all working together to facilitate the existence of small companies, through information and helping them overcome barriers.

The burden of regulation has been identified as one of the major problems for SMEs. REACH has been highlighted as the most unfriendly regulation for small and medium enterprises. As a result, ECHA is now revising the process to help SMEs.

To support/encourage SMEs in Europe, some actions need to be taken into account, including cutting the time and cost for setting up a company; cooperation with authorities at all levels; facilitating access to finance; networking; internationalization; and giving SMEs more visibility. A lack of appropriate skills was also mentioned as a weaknesses for SMEs.

To conclude the workshop, some good practice examples from European chemical regions were presented: the Chemi-Cluster in Bayern; the Competitiveness & Innovation Unit in Wallonia; and KV consulting Services BVBA from Flanders.

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