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Brussels, 14 September 2011

2011 Survey on the SME test application in EU Member States

A survey on the application of the SME test in the EU Member States was carried out by the European Commission in the beginning of 2011. Replies were obtained from all EU Member States via the national SBA contact points.

Slightly less than half of all EU Member States report that they already apply the SME test1. Malta, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic are in the process of setting it up. Remaining Member States report not to apply a specific SME test at the moment2, most often as SMEs are already accounted for in regulatory impact assessments. In four EU Member States, discussions are currently on-going on the political level with the aim of introducing the SME test3.

A large share of the EU Member States considers that the SME test has a policy impact and real value added for SMEs in their country. The main benefits brought forward include:

  • The SME test contributes to better regulation as disproportionate costs laid on businesses can be avoided;

  • The SME test [and mitigating measures] give small firms time and money to adapt their businesses; and

  • The SME test renders impacts clearer and mitigating measures easier to identify.

Among those that apply the SME test, as well as among those that do not but still take SMEs’ concerns into account whenever new legislative proposals affecting small businesses are put forward, there are, however, many disparities in practical terms. Ca 55% report making a specific assessment of the impacts on SMEs always or often whenever proposed legislation or administrative initiatives are likely to affect businesses. Another 18.5% do it only on an ad hoc basis, whereas another 18.5% report never doing so, mostly due to the lack of a legal obligation.

Around 55% report that consultations with SME stakeholders and/or SME representatives are always, or in a majority of cases, part of the SME tests carried out. In general, there is also an attempt to differentiate between different SME size classes (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises).

Most countries also target a mix of SME organisations, individual SMEs and public authorities working on SME-related issues in their consultations. When assessing the costs and benefits of legislative proposals, most EU Member States seem to apply a mix of different methods, i.e. they combine quantitative and/or qualitative cost benefit analysis with more soft types of analysis.

Summing up, there seems to be considerable variations between Member States in terms of the consistency and quality of the SME tests carried out and a strong case for moving the SME test implementation forward in the European Union.

First results are encouraging

Since the time of the survey, a number of Member States have reported that the position of the SME test has moved forward considerably in their countries. For instance in Austria, a formal SME test with a devoted methodology including a specific internet tool, will become obligatory as from 2013. Also Malta has recently established by law a requirement for all proposed legislation to undergo an SME test (as from early 2012) if it is established that the proposal has a potential impact on micro and small business. In Finland, there are plans to develop a specific SME test which would be even better than the existing procedures. To this end, a study on the methods of evaluating small business impacts in some other countries was recently carried out.

As potential ways to further improve the SME test on the national level, the respondents bring forward the following ideas:

  • Better knowledge of small companies’ business, more research on small business, more models on how to reduce disproportionate regulatory burdens on SMEs (SE);

  • Training (FI, LT, LU), quality control and method development (FI, NL);

  • Homogeneous guidelines would be greeted, regulating at the same time how to involve the bodies of interests into the elaboration of proposals (HU);

  • Make the SME test a legal obligation (AT);

  • Improve the rigor of the cost benefit analysis contained (FR);

The European Commission is committed to support a strong SME test in the EU Member States and is now evaluating how these proposals could be further developed. For example, upon the request of some Member States, the Commission will shortly organise a practical workshop for those interested in learning more about how the SME test could be developed. At the same time efforts are made to further improve the SME test application at the European level. The Commission also invites the EU-27 Member States to continue to work towards an effective and consistent use of the SME test at the national level.

European Parliament Report: Barriers and best practices in SME test implementation

1 :

DE, LV, NL, SE, FI, HU, DK, AT, LU, UK, RO and FR

2 :

PT, IE, PL, GR, CZ, BE, CY, LT, ES, EE, BG and IT

3 :

This concerns GR, BE, CY and BG.

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