The European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) initiative follows a partnership approach. It encourages regions to create EER communities that engage all relevant stakeholders and levels of governance in the delivery of SME-friendly policies. This workshop aims to highlight challenges and opportunities linked to the collaboration between territorial authorities and stakeholders, as well as between different levels of administration (local, regional, national, EU). It intends to create a dialogue between EU institutions, regional administrations and stakeholders, showcase good practices from EER regions and explore possible next steps to further strengthen multi-level and multi-actor governance in SME policy.
Last year I had the honour to be a judge on the Committee of the Regions EER Project. This time I was invited to give my thoughts on this year’s winners at the session on the Awards as part of the Committee of the Regions Open Days.
Mr Wim Van de Donk (Member of the Committee of the Regions, King's Commissioner of the Province of North Brabant (EER 2014)).opened the meeting, describing the EER concept and success. His region was a winning region and he showed a video clip of why and how they had coordinated and collaborated to put entrepreneurship at the top of the agenda.
Setting the scene, Ms Joanna Drake from the European Commission, Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, Director for SMEs and Entrepreneurship, gave a presentation on the EU tools and projects designed to ensure the focus remained on SMEs and entrepreneurs. She especially made reference to the Small Business Act and the current consultation. She also described the ambitions for the new commission , and the endorsement of Think Small First.
Presentations from EER regions included:
Ms Isabel del Rey Carrión, Secretary-General of the Regional Development Agency of Murcia Region (EER 2011); Murcia had concentrated their activities on entrepreneurship at a very local level, utilising the networks and stakeholders of “Town halls” . In doing this they had managed to anchor in law mechanisms for the whole region. A convention was signed by mayors which ensured that each town committed to support entrepreneurs and the engagement of businesses. There was an identification of niches, tax stimuli and simplified business administration. The success of the project was that it had covered 84% of the people in the Murcia region, and they had double the number of entrepreneurs compared to normal Spanish statistics. Furthermore they had engaged with 3451 students to ensure a generational change.
Ms Charlotte Peytavit, Head of Unit "Creation of activities", Region of Nord-Pas de Calais (EER 2013); This region focused on the social economy as a priority. In engaging social partners they built a strategy which engaged stakeholders at all levels. Their five key areas of focus included Creation; Takeover and Transfer; Growth; Finance; Communication. For each area of their work they created a toolbox to support entrepreneurs. The result was that they increased the number of entrepreneurs across a 7 year period from 37,000 to 47,000. They are now preparing a new strategy for 2014-2020 .
Mr Derek McCallan, Chief Executive Officer of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (EER 2015). Here the focus was on deinstitutionalisation of entrepreneurship. Engaging local authorities as they were more connected to businesses they developed relationships top down and bottom up. They specifically partnered with the private sector in order not to be dependent of external funding and had created this successful region without funding. The key strengths of this region was “trust”, dissemination and promotion of entrepreneurship. .
The “SME and entrepreneurs' perspective” part of the workshop was given by the Laure-Anne Copel, Head of Department "European Affairs", Permanent Assembly of Chambers of Trade and Craft (APCMA), and myself. We considered the three EER regions presentations from an entrepreneur's point of view highlighting what kind of support we would expect from a regional or local administration
My recommendations as a member of the EESC and as an entrepreneur were
- That whilst it was great to see best practices, there were still many cities across the EU in crisis and these cities were being ignored so we should look at ways to include them.
- Using the EESC model we must collaborate, cooperate and communicate with all stakeholders to drive forward a strong economy – most of the presentations had recognised this and it was a core competence to their success. Social partner played a key role in promoting and developing mechanisms to support entrepreneurs. Some of these initiatives required thinking outside the box.
- 98% of the backbone of the economy is SMEs , hence we must move beyond words to actions – the SBA was still very much words but it would be local authorities who could move beyond these words to enable the growth of locally based SMEs The Think Small principle was key.
- Internationalisation is a huge opportunity now for businesses, but we must not forget the EU market. Developing innovations and new technologies were a great way to address the challenges faced by other economies in the world , and especially EU projects like EBTC, the EU-China desk, TTIP were all driving forward the possibilities for EU SMEs to showcase their work.
- Looking at all policies at all levels must be done in order not to discriminate against small business. I shared the Australian Small Business Commission highlighter pen example as a cheap and effective way of making change towards supporting SMEs in policy.
This was a great opportunity for me to transfer my experiences as a Member of the EESC and a successful entrepreneur into inspiring policy makers in the EU regions and assisting in the formation of the policies towards entrepreneurship and SME friendly environment.
Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further information firstname.lastname@example.org.