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Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market, announced on 10 March the EU SME Strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe.

Europe’s 25 million small and medium enterprises are the backbone of the EU economy, as well as central to the EU’s transition to a sustainable and digital economy. They employ around 100 million people, account for more than half of Europe’s GDP and add value in every sector of the economy. In addition, SMEs bring innovative solutions to global challenges like climate change, resource efficiency and social cohesion.

Therefore, the aim of the strategy is to support the them in strengthening their capacities to adapt to the climate challenge and reaping the benefits of the digital transition, as well as reduce the regulatory burden and improve their opportunities to access finance. The goal is to allow Europe becomes the most attractive place to start a small business, make it grow and scale-up in the single market.

One of the important issues highlighted in the documents is that SMEs often find it hard to develop intellectual property (IP) strategies to protect their R&D investments and raise growth capital. It has been found that only 9% of SMEs protect their IP, as they are unaware of EU and national IP initiatives or fear the complexity and expense of acquiring and enforcing them.

The European Commission is currently working on finalising the Intellectual Property Action Plan that will propose measures to make the IP system more effective for SMEs, through actions to simplify IP registration procedures (e.g. reforming the EU legislation on industrial designs), to improve access to strategic IP advice (e.g. by making such advice standard in all EU-level R&D funding), and to facilitate the use of IP as a lever to gain access to finance.

Further, among the main actions envisaged by the Strategy, the EU Commission will upgrade the European Enterprise Network with dedicated Sustainability Advisors. It will increase the number of Digital Innovation Hubs in each EU region to deliver advice on sustainability and digitalisation, as well as connect support structures so that every SME has advice nearby. It will open possibilities for volunteering and training on digital technologies and set up digital crash courses for SME employees to become proficient in areas such as AI, cybersecurity or blockchain. Through the EU Start-up Nations Standard, the Commission will mobilise the EU Member States to share and adopt best practices, in order to accelerate the growth of high-tech SMEs and start-ups.

In addition, the Commission will appoint a dedicated high level EU SME Envoy who will drive the work of the network to ensure the implementation of strategy and the application of the Think Small First principle in all EU policies. The EU SME Envoy will also track the implementation in the individual Member States as well as signal to the Commission which EU initiatives merit consideration from an SME perspective, as well as identify existing legislation that is particularly burdensome for SMEs and suggest more user-friendly solutions.
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