Europe thrives on its many small and medium-sized enterprises. Most Europeans work for medium-sized businesses. These companies and their employees benefit from the fact that the rules applying to products in a supermarket in Berlin are the same as in Athens or Paris. A Spanish company owner can offer his goods on the Internet in Finland because there is a common legal framework for online sales in both countries. And when Europe trades in other parts of the world, the same conditions apply everywhere in the EU.
This widely-branched economy is one of the strengths of the EU. Therefore, Brussels should ensure that the rules for the single market do not constrain small and flexible companies. One recent example is the General Data Protection Regulation, which has been in force in Europe since May of this year. It is designed to give individuals more protection and prevent their data from being used without their consent. This is an important step. But in companies, the new data regulation creates uncertainty and slows things down because many questions have yet to be clarified by courts. For big companies with in-house legal departments and sufficient staff, the implementation of these complicated EU regulations may be easier.
Retailers, craftspeople and small SMEs, however, are quickly overwhelmed. There are too many of these constraints for small and medium-sized businesses, whether it involves working abroad, implementing environmental regulations or gaining access to research projects.
Therefore, the EU should be more specifically aligning its policies with the needs of small businesses. Two out of three Europeans are employed in small and medium-sized enterprises,
and SMEs account for more than half of the value added in the EU. Time and again, European politicians emphasise the notion that small and medium-sized enterprises are the backbone of the European economy and that the EU promotes a start-up culture and encourages entrepreneurship.
This would make it all the more important for the Commission, Parliament and Member States to align their common policy accordingly. Small and medium-sized enterprises already benefit from the commonalities in the EU, the single market and common trade agreements. But there is still room for improvement – and this is especially the case where European policy disregards the everyday reality of small businesses.