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Brussels, 9 November 2011

‘Small Business, Big World a new partnership to help SMEs seize global opportunities’

The priority for Europe now is to overcome the crisis boosting competitiveness and growth. Major markets such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, with strong growth rates and potential represent significant opportunities for EU companies. Exports outside the EU to expanding markets could trigger new dynamism for European economy. Internationalisation is the step SMEs need to take and to seize these opportunities.

The objectives of the new EU strategy are

  • To provide SMEs with easily accessible and adequate information on how to expand their business outside the EU.

  • To improve the coherence of support activities.

  • To improve the cost-effectiveness of support activities.

  • To fill existing gaps in support services.

  • To establish a level playing field and provide equal access for SMEs from all EU Member States.

The Commission will play a crucial role in the coordination and governance of this process, also through setting up a periodic ‘SME Internationalisation Forum’ and with a specific focus on this topic at the regular meetings of Member States’ SME Envoys. In all these activities the representatives of the private sector will be involved

This new EU strategy sets out six fields of action:

1. Strengthening and mapping the existing supply of support services

The Commission will launch an in-depth ‘mapping’ and analysis of existing support services. This exercise will involve Member States and Market Access Teams in EU Delegations and is needed in order to identify possible gaps and overlaps in the current services offering; it will provide the basis for assessing the need for any further action to provide more support in strategic countries, also by increasing and expanding the role of business support centres and the Enterprise European Network.

The Commission will:

  • launch an in-depth mapping and analysis of existing support services, both public and private, with the aim to complete, by the end of 2012, the work on priority markets (i.e. in particular, newly emerging markets);

  • identify duplication and fragmentation as well as gaps and potential synergies in existing SME support activities;

  • promote collaboration through Market Access Teams in EU Delegations and Member States’ national authorities among existing publicly-funded service providers.

2. Creating a single virtual gateway to information for SMEs

SMEs need easier access to services and expertise and to be able to identify suitable programmes already ‘at home’ in the first phase of their internationalisation. That is to say, they need a local point of contact in the EU, both physically and virtually.

The Enterprise Europe Network, with its 600 local partners will give SMEs the opportunity to establish direct contact on the ground and to receive professional support services right at their doorstep.

The Commission will:

  • give a new governance structure to the Enterprise Europe Network, improving its functioning and collaboration with hosting organisations and stakeholders;

  • launch in 2012 a multilingual online portal that will provide third country- and sector-specific information about priority markets and a detailed overview of the different support services available. The portal will build on existing databases such as the Market Access Database, the Export Helpdesk and the European Customs Information Portal. It will provide Business Opportunity and Risk Profiles comprising indicators such as economic situation, trade barriers, bureaucratic burden, customs procedures, public procurement regimes and other information for exporting SMEs for example providing information about Union legislation which can be used for concluding contracts with parties in third countries.

  • launch in 2012 an awareness-raising campaign with Member States and stakeholders to familiarise SMEs with available support services.

3. Making support schemes at EU level more consistent

SMEs may require specific support once they have begun operations in a third country. For this purpose, the Commission will develop by 2012 at the latest concrete recommendations for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire support system available to European SMEs in non-EU markets.

Moreover, the Commission will:

  • facilitate cross-border cooperation and access to complementary expertise among service providers, notably through financial incentives that could be covered by the new programme for business competitiveness and SMEs within the proposed multiannual financial framework 2014-2020;

  • subject existing measures to periodic evaluation, involving all major stakeholders; together with Member States, evaluate, optimise and promote the EU portfolio of business support for SMEs in non-member countries on the basis of best practices.

4. Promoting clusters and networks for SME internationalisation

SMEs often need to find the right partners to develop and produce globally competitive products and services. They increasingly tend to grow and innovate not alone but through collaboration by entering into strategic business cooperation and networks with international partners. In this context, the importance of subcontracting is to be recognized.

The Commission will:

  • Strengthen the role of SMEs business centres and of the European Enterprise Network in thirds countries.

  • encourage and finance the establishment of training programmes for entrepreneurs, SME managers, and managers of clusters, business networks and export consortia in order to enable them to steer internationalisation operations;

  • promote the creation of export consortia between SMEs established in different Member States through a range of measures including information campaigns and financial incentives, encouraging synergies.

  • support cross-border cooperation between cluster/networks through lending backed by EU guarantees.

5. Rationalising new activities in priority markets

In order to ensure full use of available resources and avoid overlaps, the Commission strongly reaffirms the following guiding principles: Action taken at EU level should be complementary to and not duplicate business support activities that are already carried out by Member States and/or private organisations. Sustainability: EU-level support for business support services should be based on demonstrated demand in the market. Efficiency in the use of public funds: Public funds should be used in the best relationship between resources employed and results achieved.

These guiding principles will be key elements of this strategy and will govern any EU-level initiative in this field:

  • The Commission commits itself to following these guiding principles for the selection, planning and implementation of support initiatives at EU level.

  • Member States are encouraged to follow, wherever applicable, similar principles and priorities in their external business support.

Geographical priorities

  • The EU will identify priority markets for SMEs on the basis of the above criteria. These may include the EU’s major current trading and investment partners (US, China, Russia, Japan), the enlargement countries and the European Neighbourhood Policy partners in the East and the South as well as markets generating strong economic growth (emerging markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America).

6. Leveraging existing EU external policies

All enlargement countries are encouraged to embrace the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy, including SME related activities. Strengthening the rule of law is a key priority of the enlargement policy, which will help to reinforce the confidence of EU SMEs to invest in these markets. Creating a business friendly operating environment is also an important pillar of our relations with the Eastern Partnership countries.

The historic changes under way in the Southern Mediterranean/North African region make a strong case for EU support for the socio-economic transformation in that region and link up with the EU Neighbourhood Policy.

The EU will:

  • support the creation of a business-friendly operating environment in enlargement, neighbouring and developing countries and in particular for SMEs; such improved environment will be beneficial for all SMEs, including those wishing to work in a certain specific market;

  • step up its efforts to remove remaining tariff and non-tariff barriers in non-EU countries;

  • create in the trade and economic sections of all relevant EU Delegations contact points for SMEs as part of the work of Market Access Teams.

  • pursue in its regulatory dialogues with partner governments the objective of making markets more open and friendly to small businesses;

  • make the interests of small busi0nesses in access to international procurement markets a priority in the WTO negotiations;

  • improve the communication to SMEs of the economic benefits to be gained from trading internationally and created by trade policy measures, particularly bilateral free trade agreements;

  • establish the SME Finance Forum on Africa, an important first step in the new approach to building bridges between European and African businesses by means of a strengthened and permanent dialogue;

  • raise SME awareness of possible autonomous tariff suspensions and quotas and assess their impact on SMEs as part of an evaluation to be launched in 2012.

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