Thanks to the annual SME Assembly conference taking place in Bratislava in late 2016, European SMEs will be in the spotlight during the Slovak presidency of the European Union.
Despite forming the backbone of the European economy, SMEs still seem to face a disproportionate regulatory burden. It seems that when one bureaucratic barrier eases, another comes into force.
It is worth to noting the Small Business Act (SBA); a framework for European policy on small to medium enterprises which seeks to reduce barriers to growth and to simplify the policy and regulatory environment regarding entrepreneurship. The fact that 6 out of 10 of the world’s best economies are non-European proves just why this is a necessary move; that figure should be reversed.
The annual SBA fact sheet (which maps the implementation of the SBA across European states) demonstrates that improvement of the business environment is not easy, and often takes time. There are complicated layers of regulation unique to each Member State; barriers to starting a business, gold-plating, etc. At the same time, there are also complex European-wide issues, such as state aid procedures or EU funds management, which can make the business environment challenging. Combined, the barriers can seen insurmountable without a concerted effort to unpick the layers of regulation.
However there are some challenges – such as the pressing need to limit the time and costs associated with starting a business, or the number of tax payments per year – where governments could act quite swiftly. And indeed, some of them have done so with great success so far.
So why do I believe in the Small Business Act and the positive implications it will have? Based on the SBA, here in Slovakia the Government has launched a number of practical initiatives under the Operation Programme Research and Innovation (OP R&I), such as the establishment of the ‘one-stop-shop’ under the Slovak Business Agency with various supporting schemes for those interested in doing business; whether early stage SMEs or larger scaleups aiming to go global. In addition, the Slovak Business Agency has launched the Better Regulation Centre to strengthen the regulation agenda, including an SME test. Last but not least, the Parliament is shortly due to discuss the brand new Act on SME support.
There is still much work to be done, but in a few years we have come a long way in making Slovakia a better place to do a business.
In November 2016, the SME Assembly in Bratislava will again give serious attention to Europe’s SMEs and the common issues they continue to face. By bringing together entrepreneurs, business leaders and policy makers to share ideas, opinions and critical views, we will hopefully make further headway towards the simplification of the business environment. That is what we need most in Slovakia. And Europe.