The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by EUROCHAMBRES,

On Thursday 13 October, over 700 entrepreneurs from across and beyond the EU filled the Brussels hemicycle for the 4th European Parliament of Enterprises, co-organised by EUROCHAMBRES and the European Parliament, the entrepreneurs discussed and voted on a range of issues relevant to the business community in 2016: trade, the single market, sustainability and skills.

Brexit impact concerns

The first entrepreneur from the UK drew applause from the entire hemicycle when he called for a more constructive approach by policy-makers on both sides to reaching a pragmatic solution on Brexit. The opening vote then revealed that 2 out of 3 entrepreneurs from across Europe believe that Brexit will harm their business.

SME inclusive EU trade policy

Only a few days before key discussions on the EU-Canada trade agreement, the vast majority of Members of the European Parliament of Enterprises acknowledged the need for effective EU involvement in trade policy. Dispelling the notion that globalisation only benefits huge multinationals, the Members of the European Parliament of Enterprises confirmed that trade very much matters to SMEs and that they want a stronger say in the discussions.

Stuttering Single Market

The session on the single market strongly suggested that recent initiatives to address enduring non-tariff barriers within the EU are not gaining much traction. Alarmingly, 3% more entrepreneurs than in the previous edition of the European Parliament of Enterprises voted that the single market is insufficiently integrated (87% in 2016 compared to 84% in 2014). 88% agreed that a lack of information on different countries’ rules and requirements is a significant obstacle to cross-border operations. Interestingly though, nearly 6 out of 10 then voted that online traders should be legally obliged to sell to consumers across borders; this suggests that, despite the many remaining imperfections, the business community is ready and willing to contribute to the pursuit of open markets.

Resource and Energy Efficiency

A large majority expressed a belief that the EU economy will benefit from the recent ‘Circular Economy’ proposals to improve resource efficiency and reduce waste, putting the ball firmly in the EU legislators’ court to ensure a business friendly agreement. The sustainability session also revealed an aversion to mandatory energy audits for smaller businesses, as entrepreneurs should remain free to choose how they improve their energy efficiency.

Enhancing Financial Liquidity

More than 8 out of 10 of the entrepreneurs called for governments to do more to tackle late payments, indicating that tougher EU laws introduced 2 years ago are not having the intended impact. Half of the entrepreneurs revealed that they search for financing outside their own country. Whether this is through choice or necessity, it suggests that effective EU measures to improve cross-border capital flows would gain considerable traction among the business community.

Skills Matching

There was almost unanimous support for the integration of work-based learning in vocational training, as well as for upgrades in the provision of entrepreneurship education. 90% of voters expressed their willingness to host a refugee as a trainee or apprentice, underlining the contribution that the business community can and would make to this humanitarian challenge should processes be put in place to allow them to do so.

European Pillar of Entrepreneurial Rights

The European Parliament of Enterprises revealed widespread concern about the gap between policy-makers’ rhetoric on SMEs – the ‘backbone of the economy’ – and the measures that they oversee. The role of entrepreneurs as creators of jobs, innovative products and services, opportunities, growth, wealth and consequently of prosperity for society as a whole is often taken for granted and overlooked in decisions taken.

Reflecting this, EUROCHAMBRES members – national Chamber associations from across Europe the following day approved a proposal to the European Commission to develop a ‘European Pillar of Entrepreneurial Rights’ (http://bit.ly/2dKcwRR) to complement the social equivalent that is current under preparation. After all, a social Europe is not possible without an entrepreneurial Europe.

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