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Brussels, 22 January 2009

Statement by Commissioner Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Enterprise and Industry, following high-level round table on SMEs' access to finance, held in Brussels on 21st January 2009

After a high level round table on SMEs' access to finance held in Brussels yesterday afternoon between the European Commission, the EIB group, representatives of European banking and business associations and Mrs Edit Herczog - the European Parliament rapporteur on the Small Business Act, the European Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry policy, said:

"There are clear signs that today's challenging economic situation puts jobs at risk. As the main job provider in the EU, small and medium sized enterprises play a key role in safeguarding employment. They have the necessary flexibility to withstand the crisis, but they are also more vulnerable if access to capital is curtailed. Therefore, everything must be done to ensure that viable businesses continue to have access to capital on reasonable terms. Working capital is the blood that allows businesses to operate on a day-to-day basis, while sustaining investment in innovation and human resources is essential to ensure that SMEs stand ready to fully benefit when recovery comes. In this context, I was encouraged to note that an increased concentration of banks on their core business was expected to result in a renewed focus on SMEs".

Evidence presented at the meeting shows that while access of businesses to finance significantly differs across Member States and economic sectors, data available up to now do not show an overall reduction of credit to the business sector, partly thanks to the policy efforts undertaken to stabilise the banking sector. Participants from the business sector, however, pointed to the need for extreme vigilance and continuous monitoring of the situation amid more recent signals of a possible deterioration of financing conditions as the economic crisis unfolds. It was emphasized that while respecting sound risk management principles, banks needed to fully play their role in ensuring the financing of economic activity.

Participants welcomed the European Economic Recovery Plan and appreciated the policy measures already taken on its basis at EU and national level, highlighting in particular measures to enhance access to capital in areas of competition, regional, and enterprise policies and EIB financing. It was stressed that the key was now for the Member States and other stakeholders concerned to make best use of the opportunities which have been opened. The benefit should be brought down to the enterprises as quickly as possible and administrative burden reduced to a minimum. Policy makers should stand ready to adjust the instruments if necessary."

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