European Entrepreneurs CEA-PME Hosts SME Intergroup Breakfast on Horizon Europe And What's in It for SMEs

On the 4th of September 2018, CEA-PME engaged with European policymakers of different Institutions to emphasize the importance of a good system of research and innovation funding accessible by SMEs in the coming seven-years budgetary plan for the European Union, from 2021 to 2027.

In the morning, our confederation co-hosted, together with the SME Intergroup, a cross-party intergroup of Members of the European Parliament dedicated to the support of small and medium-sized companies, a conference dedicated to Horizon Europe. Horizon Europe is the newly proposed EU program for funding Research and Innovation projects that would start in 2021. The conference wanted to be an exchange with MEPs and representatives of the European Commission to ensure SMEs could benefit the most from the proposed program.

The MEP hosting and chairing the conference was MEP Reinhard Bütikofer (Germany - Bündnis 90/Die Grünen - Greens/EFA). CEA-PME was represented by its Managing Director, Mr Stefan Moritz and its Board Member Mr Patrick Meinhardt. Mr. Moritz opened the conference by presenting the perspective of SMEs: entrepreneurs are a real creative force for innovation in our economy. They know the problems of their clients, they know their technical capacities and their limits, they work to invent new solution and they bear the risks associated with making these solutions work.

To support them, to support SMEs in their quest for innovation, we need to ask what they really need. And what is often needed is the time to develop these solutions. That means programs supporting their work in R&I should help them "buy time".

Mr Moritz reminded the audience how the previous program did not deliver exactly this, as there were too many restrictions, demanding an almost ideal technology readiness level (TRL), which caused the rejection of 95% of the proposals. SMEs are not universities or large high-tech companies, and with such criteria, the program failed to deliver any real support to them.

This new program should provide more time to SMEs to develop new innovative, marketable solutions. That means the fear of failure should not hamper experimentation. Instead SMEs should be supported in experimenting. Looking at the three phases approach proposed for supporting SMEs, Mr Moritz stated that they should, in the first two phases, open the space for SMEs by not attaching too many strings (lower TRLs and less focus on Key Enabling Technologies) and the third phase should provide coaching, mentoring, networking and financing.

Concerning funding rules, Mr Moritz stated CEA-PME's agreement with the proposed increase of funds, but also proposed that 30% of the funds of the Pillar "Global Challenges and Industrial Competitiveness" is ring-fenced for projects lead by SMEs. They should be the protagonists of change, not just support communication or be test subjects. He also advocated for more local and regional support centres, like digitalisation hubs and clusters, supporting SMEs everywhere in Europe.

Following Mr Moritz's discussion, the European Commission presented its broader proposal for programs supporting SMEs. The Institution was represented by Mr Khalil Rouhana, Deputy Director General at DG CONNECT. Mrs Sandra Parthie, Head of the Brussels Office of the German Economic Institute IW Köln provided an academic analysis of the current impact of EU funding for SMEs, starting from elements such as the definition of "SME" and the relevance of technological progress.The last speaker, Dr Anna Christmann, Member of the German Bundestag, reminded the audience that we need to understand Europe as a single region for innovation and that the EU can help European SMEs moving beyond the local markets and affirm themselves on the global stage.

Following the conference, CEA-PME also organised a tour of the European Parliament for the visiting members of the German SME-Alliance of BVMW "Mittelstandsallianz", who had come to Brussels to meet with policy-makers. Following a lunch at the EP with MEP Markus Ferber (Germany - CSU/EPP), MEP Nadja Hirsch (Germany - FDP/ALDE) and MEP Jakob von Weizsaecker (Germany - SPD/S&D), they met with European Commissioner for Budget Günther Oettinger, with whom they expanded on the discussion for improving European funding for SMEs, but also discuss the themes of Brexit and tax inequality. Their visit then concluded with a meeting with Mr Carl Buhr, Deputy Head of Cabinet of the European Commissioner for Digital Society and Economy Mariya Gabriel.

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