Supporting SMEs through concrete measures and embracing digitalisation and the use of data in line with our European values and in accordance with the Green Deal are crucial to ensure economic recovery. These were the key proposals raised by Eddy van Hijum and Mark Weinmeister during the first hybrid meeting of the Commission for Economic Policy.
Eddy van Hijum, member of the Provincial Executive of the Province of Overijssel and Rapporteur of the SME strategy, said that SMEs are the backbone of the EU’s economy and an integral part of the social fabric in towns, cities and regions. He continued “The SME strategy must properly enable SMEs, many family-owned, to rise to the challenges of the digital and green transitions and realise the longstanding issues exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Over the past weeks, van Hijum listened to business groups, visited SMEs, and engaged with regional and local stakeholders. As a result of consultations held, he proposed areas for improvement in the European Commission’s strategy and key actions to place SMEs at the centre of the economic recovery. These include:
1) Delivering more equity support instead of more loans and more debt;
2) Enable the Network of RegHubs to empower SMEs take up the green and digital transitions;
3) Making tenders for investment in regions SME-friendly and thus boost regional investment;
4) Getting tough on unfair competition from outside the EU and enable a level playing field in trade agreements.
Instead of formulating a list of demands, Mr van Hijum encouraged the CoR members to put SMEs at the heart of their regions.
During the same meeting, Mark Weinmeister, State Secretary for European Affairs, Land of Hesse and Rapporteur for A strategy for Europe’s digital future and a strategy for data presented his opinion which emphasised the need to embrace digitalisation especially following lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic. Weinmeister continued that digitalisation is significantly transforming all areas of the economy and life whilst data has become a digital fuel for the economy.
Reiterating the need to keep people at the centre of Europe’s strategy in this area, forged by European values, Weinmeister said “We believe in a digital society which is inclusive, fair and accessible to all, with a people-centred focus ensuring civil liberties, privacy and security. A fine balancing act needs to be done between the issues at hand, the challenges and opportunities for society, business and governments at all levels.”
The State Secretary for European Affairs explained that the role of local and regional authorities is massive in the area of infrastructure and skills especially. He played up the importance of Smart Regions and proper connectivity.
Data protection must play an important role and Mr Weinmeister takes the issue seriously in his draft report. Here also, Europe can provide a solid example to the rest of the world.
There remains untapped potential of AI, specifically to serve humans better. Cautioning against dependence on third countries and other regions, Mr Weinmeister concluded that in the process of digitalization, we must act efficiently under the Green Deal.