Brussels, 18 February 2014
VP Tajani visits Belgium's Wallonia region to jump-start the recovery of local SMEs
Like in many regions in the European Union, companies in Wallonia have suffered a lot from the economic crisis over the last years and have only recently started to show signs of recovery. To help SMEs in Wallonia emerge from the downturn and help them participate in the next economic growth cycle, the European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani is travelling to La Louvière today with Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director-General of DG Enterprise and SME Envoy. They will be accompanied by 500 representatives of companies from 37 countries, many of them will participate in more than 800 bilateral meetings with SMEs from Wallonia to form new partnerships and discuss opportunities for collaboration in key sectors active in the region such as aeronautics, mechatronics, logistics and creative industries.
Europe 2020 Strategy for growth
An important part of this visit will be the Europe 2020 strategy for growth conference, which the Vice President will open together with the Belgian Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo and the Vice-President and Minister of Economy of Wallonia, Jean-Claude Marcourt. Issues discussed will include internationalisation and access to markets of SMEs, key enabling technologies as well as clusters and regional specialisation. The Vice President will use this opportunity to introduce COSME, a new € 2.3 billion program for SMEs which aims to address the main challenges they are currently facing, such as access to financing, access to foreign markets, improvement of the business environment and support to entrepreneurs. Among other things, this program will help EU enterprises, including the ones in Wallonia, deal with the current credit crunch by enabling them to receive more than 22 billion euros in secured loans over the next seven years (IP/13/1135 ).
Central to this visit, hosted by the region of Wallonia and the Wallonia Trade & Investment Agency “AWEX”, will be the business to business networking event which will take place in the afternoon. The aim of the event is to promote business partnerships between Walloon and other EU companies, but also with other non-European countries in sectors identified as key contributors to achieving growth in the region, including:
Favourable business environment
Although the Wallonia region has suffered during the recent double-dip recession, the forecast for the future leaves room for cautious optimism. Whereas many large industrial plants had difficulties due to the crisis, the SME sector has weathered it much better than in most other EU countries with an employment increase of about 2% over the last 5 years.
Important policy measures have been taken over the past years in the areas of entrepreneurship, access to finance, internationalisation, environment and innovation. For example, the implementation of the successive Marshall Plans in Wallonia consist of ambitious action plans to take up the economic, social and environmental challenges bringing opportunities for SMEs in the region. Furthermore, the recent SME performance review for the region (MEMO/13/1045) illustrates that the principles of the Small Business Act have produced encouraging results.
Creative economy as the driver of economic change
For many years now Wallonia has been investing in the development of high-potential, specialised sectors of economic activity. This regional specialisation created a favourite business environment for SMEs in these sectors with a huge potential to reach out to global markets. Today many companies in Wallonia provide specialised products and services in sectors such as biotechnology & health (BioWin), environmental technologies (GreenWin), mechanical engineering (MecaTech), aeronautics & space technologies (SkyWin), agro-industry (Wagralim) as well as the logistics cluster.
This region clearly chose to develop and modernize its economic tissue by placing creativity and innovation at the centre of their strategy, in particular with the Creative Wallonia initiatives. As a result, Wallonia, together with Tuscany, is one of the two European regions which have been recognised by the European Commission for their strategy of supporting the creative economy as a driver of economic change.
Against this background, the Vice President will also use this visit to point out funding opportunities which will come out of the new Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. For example, a new "SME Instrument" (with the help of the Enterprise Europe Network) will support innovative SMEs, during an entire innovation cycle: from the conception of the innovative idea, to the final creation of the new product or service. Companies will then have the responsibility to commercialize their innovations using existing mechanisms of access to finance.