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A programme for clean and competitive SMEs
To help small and medium-sized enterprises apply EU environmental legislation as well as possible, the Commission proposes a programme aimed at improving legislation, environmental management tools, financial assistance, local expertise as well as communication and information.
Communication of 8 October 2007 from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, entitled: "Small, clean and competitive - A programme to help small and medium-sized enterprises comply with environmental legislation" [COM(2007) 379 - Not published in the Official Journal].
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 99 % of all enterprises and 57 % of economic added value in the European Union (EU), yet they fail to apply a significant number of European environmental laws. This happens either because they fall below the thresholds that trigger the application of these laws, or because they are unaware of their impact on the environment and of the legislation applicable to their activities.
This situation has adverse effects on the competitiveness of SMEs, which don't reap the economic benefits associated with better environmental management and eco-innovation, and also on the environment and the health and safety of workers.
To help SMEs adopt sustainable production methods and business practices, the Commission aims to increase SME compliance with environmental legislation by reducing the costs involved, increasing the eco-efficiency of SMEs and enhancing their eco-innovation and competitiveness.
This action plan entails improving legislation, adapting environmental management tools, providing SMEs with financial assistance, building local expertise and improving communication and information. The Commission and Member States must regularly review the programme's implementation, whose initial assessment will take place by 2010.
Measures that can be taken to improve the design and implementation of legislation include streamlining administrative procedures in order to cut costs, grouping and disseminating best practices for meeting environmental obligations, for instance via initiatives such as BEST, working with implementation authorities such as the IMPEL Network and consulting with SMEs in policy-making and policy implementation.
Tailoring environmental management schemes to SMEs
The Commission encourages the application of the environmental management and audit system (EMAS). In particular, it intends to extend this system to a given industrial cluster or sector, and to develop tools such as EMAS-Easy to facilitate its implementation. Furthermore, it plans to reduce the red tape involved in dealing with EMAS in order to encourage European companies to use it. .
Providing appropriate and sustainable financial assistance
To facilitate investment in eco-efficient processes, SMEs can receive European funding and aid through programmes such as LIFE+, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and the new instruments of the Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, such as the ERDF, the Cohesion Fund and the European Social Fund. The Commission plans to publish a handbook on new funding opportunities for businesses.
In addition, Community regulations on State aid make it possible for Member States to financially assist businesses that comply with and even improve on the EU's environmental legislation.
Building local expertise
The Commission plans to build capacity to support SMEs in the Member States by organising training seminars on how to find information and on the legal requirements and the benefits of improved environmental performance. The Euro Info Centres (EIC) Network and, from 2008, the new network in support of business and innovation, integrating the services of EICs and the Innovation Relay Centres (IRCs), will support the efforts of the Commission by promoting partnerships and working actively with SMEs.
Improved communication and more targeted information
A multilingual website should be established to provide SMEs with information on the implementation of laws, management tools, funding opportunities, good practices and so on. The Commission also intends to develop guidelines for SMEs to help them control their impact on the environment.