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Small and medium-sized enterprises

At Community level, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are defined by a set of criteria concerning the workforce, turnover and independence of the business. In terms of the workforce alone, a micro-enterprise has fewer than 10 employees, a small enterprise fewer than 50 and a medium-sized enterprise fewer than 250. The European Union has specifically defined SMEs so that the benefits introduced for their support are reserved for those businesses which genuinely have the characteristics of such firms.

Small and medium-sized enterprises account for more than 90% of all European enterprises and are at the very heart of the European economy. In line with the slogan "think small first" from the European Charter for Small Enterprises (2000), the Union is setting up a number of SME support measures (access to funding, taxation, research, information and communication technology, etc.) It has also established a single, coherent policy framework for these various measures, with the aim of realising the untapped potential of SMEs for growth and job creation within the Union.

To ensure that the specific interests and needs of SMEs are taken more fully into account in European policies, a representative of the SMEs acts as a link between them and the European Commission.

While the Union encourages using the Community definition of SMEs as a reference, it is binding only for certain matters, such as state aid, implementing structural funds or Community programmes.

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