Special Event – Digitalisation of SMEs: How to make it possible?

Speakers: Peltonen Petri, Štefanec Ivan, Battista Jasmin, Borunska Katerina, Winn Birgit, Nilo Fonseca Alexandre, Kontkanen Mira-Maria, Mikliszanska Marta, Reimer Henrik, McMillan Neil
Moderator: Acton Michael

On the 16th of October, METRO in cooperation with PubAffairs Bruxelles and EuroCommerce hosted a debate on the possibilities of digitising small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with Mr Ivan Štefanec, Member of the European Parliament and President of SME Europe, Ms Jasmin Battista, DG CNECT, European Commission, Ms Katerina Borunska, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission, Ms Birgit Winn, Head of Digital Projects, Hospitality.Digital, Metro AG, Mr Alexandre Nilo Fonseca, President of ACEPI (Portuguese Digital Economy Association), Ms Mira-Maria Kontkanen, Advisor, Federation of Finnish Enterprises and Ms Marta Mikliszanska, Head of Public Affairs, Allegro.

Mr Neil McMillan, Director of Public Affairs and Trade, EuroCommerce hold the welcome speech, Mr Petri Peltonen, Finnish SME Envoy delivered the keynote speech.

Mr Henrik Reimer, Head of Office, SME Connect, gave the closing remarks.

Michael Acton, Correspondent for MLex in Brussels, moderated the discussion.

Mr Neil McMillan started his introductory speech by praising the initiative of creating an opportunity for debate about SMEs and the digital economy. The speaker explained that the retail and the wholesale sector include 5.4 million small, medium and micro sized enterprises, which are valuable vectors of innovation, but are also in constant risk of low profitability. For this reason, the speaker also praised the call of European Commission President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, for a proactive SME policy, which he considered in line with the expectations of the EU SME envoys for the upcoming legislature. The speaker continued by stating that the challenges the SME community as a whole is faced with are inextricably dependent on the European overall economic welfare. Regarding digitalisation, Mr McMillan stated that the technological revolution is changing the way people buy and live and, this phenomenon is augmenting the challenges for SMEs, especially for those which do not have access to the relevant digital skills to attract customers. Against this background, the speaker said that it would be difficult for small businesses to compete in the global e-commerce arena due to both the high costs and the lacking expertise. Regarding the tasks for the next European Commission, he reiterated the need for support of SMEs, particularly when it comes to basic IT skills, website management and logistics. Furthermore, by underlining that the single market itself has been able to create a remarkable added value, Mr McMillan urged EU institutions to make efforts to make the single market work rather than using public resources for an economic stimulus. The speaker concluded his speech with a further plea to the European Commission in order to encourage a more regional approach by mentioning some examples from Italy and the Netherlands and their successful stories both in revitalising their respective local economies through the cooperation between SMEs and local communities and in keeping their cities attractive for tourism and business.

Mr Petri Peltonen opened his keynote speech by describing the uncertainties of the international landscape and by highlighting the stances of the Finnish Presidency regarding the need of increasing the influence of the European Union in the global scene. By taking the example of Asia’s gross domestic product, which is poised to reach the equivalent amount of wealth to the rest of the world combined by 2020, the speaker highlighted Europe’s decreasing economic power and the effects of this phenomenon on several other vital aspects of the wellbeing of European citizens. He subsequently appreciated the prioritisation of sustainable growth by the current Presidency, a stance which is also based on the Finnish economic experience of low growth over the last decade despite remaining a strong export-oriented country. Starting from this premise, Mr Peltonen expressed the urgency to find a recipe for success to secure Europe’s position in the global economic arena by identifying its areas of excellence. The speaker subsequently stated that the current moment of the policy cycle corresponds to the right moment to consider the role of SMEs in the jobs and growth agenda and to develop policies at a local, national and EU level that are supporting European growth objectives. For these reasons, digitalisation, as well as encouraging a broader policy attention to the growing role of SMEs and micro-businesses in targeting lasting policy objectives, should be a priority for the next legislature. Indeed, the speaker remarked that “making an opportunity out of the necessity” would help to shape a sustainable growth agenda. The speaker also emphasised the work of the Finnish Presidency in presenting innovative ideas for growth and jobs between the legislative terms. With reference to the focus of the new Commission on an innovative SME strategy, Mr Peltonen expressed his hope that SME policies will not have a marginal position, as three Commissioners will now be responsible for this domain. While proposing a horizontal policy approach, which integrates SME-related initiatives with other major political domains, the speaker insisted on giving broader attention to the problems and concerns of SMEs. Indeed, digitalisation is a great opportunity for SMEs to build their business models, the speaker specified, and affirmed the need for policy instruments to optimise the EU digital single market. Mr Peltonen then stated that the area of real time economy offers several potential opportunities for SMEs and mentioned the efficiency improvements enabled through digital transactions at all levels as an example of this process. He also explained how digital platforms give the possibility to attract customers within and outside of Europe, and stated that the capabilities for providing digital products must be guaranteed. Although many of the most successful platforms are non-European, he expressed the opinion that there is no need for concern in this regard, as long as the regulation of dominant digital platforms is effective in order to avoid abuses of dominance. The speaker concluded his keynote speech with the renewed plea for an integrated SME policy at both EU and member states level.

Michael Acton opened the discussion with a question to the audience by asking a yes/no question, namely if European SMEs are currently keeping pace with digitalisation. The audience replied negatively to the question.

Subsequently, the moderator introduced the panel and directed the discussion towards the priorities of the European Commission for the next five years.

Ms Jasmin Battista began by stating that despite not having a Commissioner responsible for DG CNECT yet and thus pending detailed political guidance, the commitment of President-elect von der Leyen to link the single market with digitalisation of the European economy shows the importance of the digital transformation and the multifaceted aspects of commerce. The description of SMEs as “all that is good for Europe” in the political guidelines also highlights this prioritisation and shows how the President-elect values the role of SMEs in relation to digitalisation, sustainability and the internal market. The announcement of a private-public fund specialising in Initial Public Offerings of SMEs, she added, confirms this prospect. Ms Battista pointed at the need for the completion of the Capital Markets Union to guarantee access to financial means for SMEs to grow, innovate and scale up, as this aspect constitutes one of the most urgent problems for the sector. As it is often not possible for businesses to invest in every aspect of their activity at the same time, the speaker explained, it would be crucial for SMEs to invest in digitalisation and innovation choosing the investment that will add the most value for their business, in order to foster their growth. The speaker also expressed concern regarding the lack of awareness of information tools, which are of critical importance for e-commerce and the evolution of digital platforms. Ms Battista subsequently announced a new Digital Service Act which will also include the revision of the e-commerce Directive. This new piece of legislation, the speaker explained is critical, the liability of platforms and the availability of services across borders will be one of the areas of work for the incoming Commission. In addition, Ms Battista identified innovation as a key priority of the Von der Leyen Commission, emphasising that an artificial intelligence scheme for SMEs will be put forward. The speaker concluded her initial remarks by underlying that an SME strategy should focus on retail business, as one out of four SMEs is active in this domain and advised of the Commission’s publication, ‘Facing the Future’, which targets practical steps that can help SME retailer seize digital opportunities.

The moderator asked Ms Katharina Borunska about the successes and setbacks she experienced in the sector of SME funding, as well as about the prospect of increasing funding for digitalisation.

Ms Katharina Borunska started her answer by confirming that Europe is lagging behind in terms of funding of SME digitalisation. As the backbone of the economy, SMEs need to be supported in order to succeed in digitalising, to get the better market access and to increase their productivity, she explained. For this purpose, Ms Borunska stated that the European Commission will continue supporting digitalisation projects via its financial instruments such as InnovFin – EU Finance for Innovators under Horizon 2020. Within this context, the speaker indicated an upcoming pilot under InnovFin as well as COSME of DG GROW, to be implemented by the European Investment Fund (EIF). The speaker emphasised the work of the latter as it provides for guarantees to financial intermediaries, which, in turn, provide loans to SMEs with the specific objective to help their innovation process. Indeed, she explained, these loans can be used for acquiring new digital equipment or transforming the business model of SMEs. The speaker also highlighted Commissioner Moedas’ approach to supporting digital innovations, including the domain of artificial intelligence and blockchain, based on the consideration that Europe is performing well in research but lagging behind in innovation. For these reasons, the European Innovation Council (EIC) have identified these technologies as crucial and will help start-ups to employ them in the market. As an example of this effort, Ms Borunska concluded by mentioning a current EIC Accelerator pilot, which will provide up to 2.5 million Euros in the form of grants and 15 million Euros in the form of equity to these companies.

Michael Acton asked Ms Birgit Winn about her experiences with funding of SMEs in the hospitality sector, as well as about other possible obstacles to the SME catch up process with technological innovation.

Ms Birgit Winn initiated her statement by explaining the position of Metro regarding SMEs. This relation goes far over the public perception that Metro is just a provider of food and non-food articles for the SMEs, she stated. Indeed, SMEs are not only the backbone of the European economy, as they contribute to a large extent to EU citizens‘ quality of life, but they are also the most relevant customer group of Metro. Ms Winn explained that the topic of funding is often out of reach for SMEs, as they are often small businesses whose focus on their daily activities makes them unaware of the funding efforts at EU level. Instead, Ms Winn acknowledged, SMEs are becoming more aware of the missed opportunities stemming from digitalisation, a fact that is often due to their lacking of digital skills or information on how to innovate. The speaker took the example of the restaurant business, within which the staff are often organised with outdated methods such as phone reservations and order taking. The speaker also added that, even if the staff have private social media accounts, SMEs are often far away from an effective online presence. Due to the lack of information and the high prices of relevant technology on the market, SMEs in the hospitality sector are indeed often deterred from innovating, Ms Winn stated. With regard to training on digital skills, the speaker pointed out that the generation of digital natives has not taken over the stewardship of SMEs yet and, for this reason, it is crucial to also educate the current generation who is currently in charge. Ms Winn also pledged for the development of user-friendly digital tools, simple enough to be utilised by a broad group of users with different skill sets. Regarding this question, Ms Winn stressed that in 2015 Metro recognized the need of SMEs in the hospitality industry to digitize and started an entity to help SMEs by developing and offering various digital tools like a reservation tool and a tailor made online presence for restaurants for free. This way Metro supports them to keep them competitive and helps them growing businesses, as well as their customers. Ms Winn then highlighted that Metro also created a platform called “Dish” (dish.co) which aggregated their digital portfolio and cooperate with start-ups, which are providing digital solutions, for example staff management and administration tasks. With reference to a study which Metro has conducted in 10 countries, she stated that about 40% of business owners identified finding qualified staff for their SMEs as one of the most important problems they face, while 80% of businesses confirmed that digital tools to improve recruitment and make the staff management more efficient are of fundamental importance. Ms Winn subsequently took the example of a further tool to calculate the costs of recipes and the profit margins of the given menu in order to optimise the offering. The speaker closed her initial statements by reminding of the daily work of the hospitality sector in which digital tools can alleviate the burden of their daily business management tasks.

The moderator continued by asking Mr Štefanec MEP, which value the European Parliament can add in terms of legislation in aiming at a swifter adoption of new technologies by SMEs.

Mr Ivan Štefanec MEP responded by mentioning the activities of the organisation “SME Europe”, which is the largest political organisation in Europe dedicated to the rights of small and medium sized enterprises, and is closely linked to the European Peoples Party (EPP). The MEP explained that the main purposes of SME Europe is simplifying the activities of SMEs and the legislative process, aims which require a close monitoring of every piece of legislation according to their potential impacts on SMEs. Mr Štefanec subsequently highlighted the main objectives of relevance for SMEs for the upcoming legislature, starting with the question of financing. In fact, the speaker explained, as Europe is a banking economy and not a capital economy, there is not enough capital and loans available for start-ups, especially for those aimed at scaling up their businesses. The speaker continued by stating that, alongside the need for building the Capital Markets Union, a further priority is the completion of the single market, with special regard to the field of services, and cross-border delivery, as this last aspect of single market is not fully finalised yet. These outstanding questions derive from both a lack of a service directive in the area of delivery services and a lack of determination by some member states. As a further priority for the next legislature the speaker mentioned the fostering of digitalisation and the completion of the digital single market as fundamental. Regarding this last topic, Mr Štefanec explained that focus should not be set on legislation alone, but also on infrastructure. Indeed, the differences among member states when it comes to digital infrastructure are diverse, however, the speaker explained, this fact leaves valuable room for improvement in many EU countries and, consequently, for fostering the growth of SMEs. The MEP continued by highlighting the importance of cooperation between SMEs and large companies in order to create a healthy business environment and new jobs in Europe, as well as by adding that 80% of new employment opportunities in the last five years were created by SMEs. Mr Štefanec concluded his remarks by referring to the latest position paper of SME Europe, which addresses these objectives for the consideration of the new European Commission.

Michael Acton asked Ms Marta Mikliszanska how Allegro is engaging with SMEs and what the most important hurdles to remove are, in order for SMEs to better exploit the opportunities stemming from e-commerce.

Ms Marta Mikliszanska began with introducing Allegro as the largest e-commerce platform in Poland, founded 20 years ago as a small auction platform and becoming today the sixth largest online retailer in Europe. Ms Mikliszanska explained that there are over 20 million active accounts and one million products sold per day, mainly in Poland, and that out of the 140.000 merchants’ accounts, along with big brands, 95% are run by SMEs, making this merchant group “the engine” of the platform. Ms Mikliszanska stressed that, even if Polish SMEs are adapting quickly to the digital economy, there is need for continued support. Indeed, Allegro is giving support to SMEs by simplifying their access to the platform and by offering low entry barriers. Additionally, the speaker highlighted that Allegro also offers SMEs, not only tools regarding marketing purposes and for the establishment of a network, but also access to finance, such as leasing or zero-percent instalments. These tools, the speaker explained, are de facto enabling day-to-day support for small, medium and micro enterprises. In addition, in order to offer an effective use of the provided tools, Allegro proposes up to 30 training sessions per month, activities which create the opportunity for merchants to develop their skills, network with each other and to improve their image on the platform itself. Ms Mikliszanska concluded her intervention by pointing out the importance of representing both Polish and European SMEs in Brussels and in the public debate, as they are lacking the resources and know-how to be visible and explain their perspective in an effective way.

The moderator continued by asking Mr Alexandre Fonseca about the state of the process of digitalisation of SMEs in Portugal.

Mr Alexandre Fonseca began his contribution by giving an overview of the situation in Portugal as a country with a relatively small population of 10 million, but in a strategic geographic position in Europe connecting Latin America and Africa. Mr Fonseca then explained that a solid telecommunication infrastructure and a significant level of digital connectivity have made Portugal a high-ranking country within the EU in terms of digitalisation, while explaining that the offer of public services in Portugal is also of high quality. Consequently, he elaborated on the multiple initiatives carried out in Portugal, which can be considered a country of reference in terms of public services and digitalisation and exemplified this process through a policy initiative making it mandatory for public organisations to conduct procurements on digital platforms. This measure contributed greatly, the speaker clarified, to create purchases worth 80 billions euro through digital platforms in the last year, a value equivalent to half of the Portuguese GDP. Since 2013, Mr Fonseca asserted, companies have had to comply with electronic invoicing and tax declarations and explained that this initiative brought to light a large piece of the market which was acting in the shadows. However, the speaker expressed concern about other aspects of the digitalisation question which are often not shown by statistics on micro-companies, which make-up 95% of Portuguese businesses, as a vast majority of small merchants are often missing the skills to digitalise, especially in small cities and villages. The speaker subsequently highlighted that this trend is of high concern for a country as dependent on tourism, such as Portugal. As modern tourism is increasingly relying on the use of smartphones, these businesses need an online presence to attract customers to their locations. For this reason, an initiative, called “Digital Commerce” was launched in February this year in order to target micro companies and small retailers. In partnership with more than a hundred associations at a national and local level, awareness activities are being organised in 150 cities over two years with the purpose of explaining to merchants the importance of being online, the speaker added. Companies get support through a free tool for website development as well as a “.pt” domain for one year and information about how to be present in social media and locations services, as well as courses in a digital academy for website management, social media and online marketing. On the topic of digital platforms, Mr Fonseca remarked the importance of avoiding an over dependency on them, as merchants are at risk of not getting the necessary know-how for digital advertising and e-commerce, if all services are provided to them by external sources. Indeed, if merchants are able to understand the basics of e-commerce management, the speaker added, they will be able to decide which share of their business they want to conduct on platforms and which on their own websites. For this purpose, there is an online assessment tool, showing SMEs the state of their digital operability and giving them hints on how to improve their performance. Furthermore, the speaker pledged for a communication-based approach at the local level exemplified by a future initiative called the “Fast Digital Consultants”, which engages young people in helping small merchants with creating websites and other basic steps in the digital world. Mr Fonseca concluded his intervention by expressing his opinion that any initiative which does not aim at mobilising and communicating at a local level would not bring effective results.

Michael Acton asked Ms Mira-Maria Kontkanen her perspective on the priorities for SME in Europe.

Ms Mira-Maria Kontkanen opened her statement with a summary of the activities of the Federation of Finnish Enterprise and its 150.000 member companies. Although the state of the digitalisation process of SMEs in Finland is advanced, the speaker pledged for an acceleration of this process and acknowledged that a valuable number of digitally-driven companies have not shown a significant increase in numbers during the last 10 years in Finland. Ms Kontkanen continued by stating that while 80% of Finland’s SMEs use basic digital tools in their daily operations, the integration of modern digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and robotics remains challenging. The speaker continued her remarks by giving some insights in her work with SME United, a European umbrella organisation for SMEs, which recognises digitalisation as one of the main struggles for small, medium and macro enterprises and described the inherent challenges as two-fold. On the one hand, there are digitally-driven companies which are lacking skilled employees and whose challenges are mainly of financial or regulatory character, as well as a skills gap, whereas, on the other hand, she identified more traditional companies, which are in danger of losing their competitiveness as they are struggling to keep pace with the latest technological and logistic innovations. The speaker consequently pledged for both national and European policy approaches which take into consideration the set of demanding tasks for both groups. Ms Kontkanen also urged the European Commission to deal carefully with the regulation of the banking and financial sector, as SMEs are mostly relying on financing by banks, instrument which is becoming more and more difficult for these types of firms to use. Referring to the Digital Europe programme, she highlighted its positive outcomes as it has targeted the most pressing digitalisation issues of SMEs. However, the speaker raised some concerns, as it lacked sufficient resources for awareness raising and information sharing. Ms Kontkanen concluded her intervention by stating that digital innovation hubs and clusters are effective ways to foster change, if the whole SME sector will be able to receive the necessary information on the possibilities at their disposal.

In response to these statements, Ms Battista went into detail about the work of European institutions and clarified that as the topic is vast she did not mention in her first intervention the question of digital skills which is indeed an area of priority for European institutions. In addition, she stated that in order to encourage SMEs to work with digital platforms, the Commission adopted the “platform to business” Regulation in order to ensure for business users in particular SMEs fairness in their relations with large online platforms. She agreed with previous interventions that the existing tools to inform SMEs about digitalisation of industry opportunities need to be promoted better, rather than creating new ones. Ms Battista also touched upon the Digital Economy Index (DESI), which is a composite index that summarises relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance and tracks the evolution of EU member states in digital competitiveness and the Digital Transformation Scoreboard which analysed the adoption of digital technologies in businesses; 19 national plans for the digital transition in 2019 were analysed. The speaker said that the index shows an overall positive outlook, as in two thirds of the monitored countries, digitalisation is treated as an actual priority and that the SMEs are investing in digitalisation and several stat-ups are improving the potential of Europe. Nonetheless, the speaker also stressed that the investment in digital skills and in IT specialists has decreased by 1.6%, whereas the hiring of external staff, the speaker explained, is at 1.7% and compensates this lack. However, this fact also unveils a remarkable gap in this area. On the question of a possible overdependence on platforms, she remarked that the European Commission is active in ensuring fair competition rules through monitoring and regulations. At the same time, the speaker also warned that these measures would not replace the need for investments. Ms Battista expressed her satisfaction about the presence of around 50% of EU SMEs on social media, while expressing concerns about the lacking of cross-border trade which amounts only up to 6.5% of the total exchanges. Ms Battista finally stated that the Commission will continue in its efforts in tackling the main barriers within the digital single market and avoid market fragmentation as much as possible.

Another focal point of the discussions consisted of the question of the long-term perspectives for Europe’s economy with special regard to global competition and the strategic role of investments.

Ms Borunska highlighted the importance of companies with digitally driven business models and those developing digital technologies for ensuring “European sovereignty”, the EU should find “European solutions to our problems”, and not rely on external economic actors. With reference to the work of the European Innovation Council, the speaker highlighted the importance of being self-reliant as Europeans especially in matters such as artificial intelligence. Indeed, the speaker explained, these are key technologies in multiple sectors, such as health and energy. The speaker also highlighted that China is shifting its strategy from “Made in China” to “Invented in China” and that this shift should serve as example for the European strategy. On the issue of investments, Ms Borunska described the question of training of skills in the context of the InvestEU programme. From 2021 on, the speaker clarified, the programme will not only provide funding for research, innovation and digitalisation; SMEs; sustainable infrastructure but also for social investment and skills, where training and skills are of key focus.

On the same topic, Ms Kontkanen expressed her concern about the small number of European companies within the top digital companies in the world. Indeed, the speaker explained, despite its intense research and innovation activities, Europe has not been able to gain more importance on a global scale, and urged to foster the growth of digital companies, both to prevent the dispersion of European knowledge and human capital and to further empower Europe in the current international economic arena. She strengthened her argument with the reference to a survey study conducted by the Finnish Innovation and Research Fund (SITRA) about the awareness and perception of the data economy by entrepreneurs, which showed some clear-cut results: firstly, the survey showed that that companies in Europe perceive digitalisation as more challenging than their American and Asian counterparts as they are acting under a different legal framework; secondly, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been perceived as too burdensome for SMEs and thirdly, as there are two big players in the market, it is often impossible to compete with them. As a result Ms Kontkanen concluded that European and national institutions should be aware that the EU global competitiveness is currently at a turning point.

Regarding this question, Ms Winn replied, that, considering the importance of SMEs for the quality of life in Europe both for their services and as job creators, there is a need for a collective action to save SMEs at an EU level, which are facing a strong competition by Far Eastern companies that are not obliged to follow EU regulations such as GDPR. The speaker also stated that this setting should not only concern SMEs, but also larger companies and concluded by highlighting that the use of data by some non European actors should also be of concern for Europe.

Engaging with this last focal point, Mr Fonseca highlighted the fact that digitalisation made it possible for small companies to sell high quality products and services, and this fact is consequently offering a valuable opportunity to SMEs to sell their products globally. The speaker continued by stating that, while there are more than 1.8 billion people buying online, with half of them across borders, the challenge remains to integrate the companies which still have no online presence. Indeed, Mr Fonseca clarified, a large percentage of the European companies – companies below 10 employees – are not even pictured in statistics, including in the above-mentioned DESI index, not giving a correct perspective of the current situation regarding the digitization of Europe. With regard to Chinese competitors, he declared that millions of packages are coming from there to Europe on a daily basis without taxation, and benefiting from lower shipping tariffs creating an “unlevelled” playing field with EU merchants. Mr Fonseca also explained that for European merchants to sell to the Chinese market, they have to basically go through a single Chinese platform, managed by one large global company and, for this reason, it is not comparable with the competition-based system in Europe. Indeed, the Chinese model makes the merchants completely dependent of the platform, while also the financing of large companies in China is based on completely different criteria, than in Europe, the speaker stated. These questions, the speaker explained, must be addressed as fast as possible by European institutions as they are hindering the formation of a fair international level playing field and add on to the burden of the complexity of Europe’s legal frameworks for e-commerce, as well as for payments.

Mr Štefanec MEP described the difficulties SMEs have in Europe with digitalising, as they are dependent on 28 different legal frameworks. He urged the European institutions to simplify these regulations in the interest of a digital single market. Furthermore, the speaker pledged for a comprehensive strategy including innovation policy, the support of SMEs and the removal of barriers in order to put into practice the ideas which have been put forward by EU institutions. A European long-term vision must respect the interconnections between different policy areas, as well as avoid market fragmentation in order to guarantee growth. Regarding the question of investments in knowledge, the speaker mentioned the Erasmus for young entrepreneurs programme, which brings together business owners from different EU countries to exchange experiences and the Entrepreneurship 50+ program, which fosters the skills training of long time entrepreneurs, as examples of good practises as they are often implemented on a collaborative basis among, or with, young entrepreneurs and they have been able to come up with solutions that combine new ideas with experience.

With regard to the topic of global competition, Ms Mikliszanska replied that there is indeed an issue of level-playing field and law enforcement. As trade is not exclusively happening inside the European legal framework, the applicability of regulation to non-European players is a main challenge for the EU, she stressed. The speaker subsequently urged EU institutions to consider that European SMEs have to compete with merchants on a global scale and that this factor needs to be considered, not only when it comes both to the question of efficient implementation of existing legislation, but also when putting forward new legislation.

Mr Henrik Reimer started his closing remarks, by introducing his organisation named “SME Connect2”, which represents 4 million SMEs. He expressed the opinion that there should not be any rivalry between large enterprises and SMEs and that the market has to be understood as an ecosystem. By highlighting that SMEs are suppliers and consumers of large enterprises and vice versa, he elaborated on the necessity of the digitalisation process for SMEs. With reference to the term “European way of life” used by Commission President-elect von der Leyen, he emphasised how crucial it is to be independent from Chinese and American digital services in order to uphold and advance the high quality of life we have in Europe. The speaker concluded his statement with his vision of a Europe which creates its own tech giants and where the entrepreneur of today could be the market leader of tomorrow.

The Q&A session covered the following issues: better ways of funding micro companies and SMEs in comparison to start-ups, methods of attracting specialised staff from India and China and the question of better education and training of SME owners as well as for the most effective single measure the European Commission could initiate in order to help SMEs.

Want to know more about the issues discussed in this debate? Then, take a look at the selected sources provided below!

Digital transformation, European Commission

Digital Europe Programme: a proposed €9.2 Billion of funding for 2021-2027, European Commission

The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), European Commission

Annual report on European SMEs 2019, European Commission

COSME: Europe’s programme for small and medium-sized enterprises, European Commission

Digital skills training blueprints for upskilling SME employees and unemployed persons, European Commission

Digital Opportunity traineeships: boosting digital skills on the job, European Commission

Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU: Programme

SME envoys network, European Commission

Sustainable SME growth main theme at SME Assembly 2019, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, Finnish Presidency of the EU

SMEs, the lifeblood of Europe, need to become more digitalised, Euractiv

New Commission spreads innovation agenda across half-dozen portfolios, Science Business

Von Der Leyen urged to prioritise single market to counter slowdown, Euractiv

METRO Politics: Digital Office

METRO Politics: Downloads

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The digitalisation of small and medium-sized enterprises in Portugal: Models for financing digital projects – Summary Report, European Investment Bank

ACEPI project qualifies 50 SMEs for the digital economy and internationalization of the business, Portugal News

Dish.co: a platform where SMEs in hospitality can get digital tools