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SMEs in the EU

News and information about the European Union's policies for small and medium-sized businesses.

Mediation in civil and commercial matters - guide
The European Parliament and the EU's Council on 23 April 2008 gave the go-ahead for an EU law to encourage mediation for cross-border legal disputes. The directive promotes the use of mediation as a faster and cheaper alternative to going to court in civil and commercial cross-border disputes.

Mediation in civil and commercial matters - summary
The European Parliament and the EU Council on 23 April 2008 gave the go-ahead for an EU law to encourage mediation for cross-border legal disputes. The proposed directive is aimed at promoting the use of mediation as a faster and cheaper alternative to going to court in civil and commercial cross-border disputes.

Antitrust: EC policy paper on compensating consumer and business victims of competition breaches - guide
The European Commission on 3 April 2008 published a White Paper suggesting a new model for achieving compensation for consumers and businesses who are the victims of antitrust violations (breaches of EC Treaty rules on restrictive business practices and abuse of dominant market positions). At present, there are serious obstacles in most EU Member States that discourage consumers and businesses from claiming compensation in court in private antitrust damages actions. The White Paper includes suggestions to make damages claims by victims more efficient, whilst ensuring respect for European legal systems and traditions. The model outlined by the Commission is based on compensation through single damages for the harm suffered. The White Paper's other key recommendations cover collective redress, disclosure of evidence and the effect of final decisions of competition authorities in subsequent damages actions. The recommendations balance rights and obligations of both the claimant and the defendant and include safeguards against abuses of litigation. Interested parties are invited to comment on the recommendations until 15 July 2008. The Commission will then reflect on concrete measures in the light of responses to the White Paper.

Women and men in decision-making
This website on women and men in decision-making gives an insight into the relative numbers of women and men participating in the decision-making process and taking up leadership positions in the European Institutions, the 27 Member States of the European Union, the EEA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), and two of the EU candidate countries (Croatia and Turkey). The website contains data and indicators that cover decision-making in political, public and juridical and social and economic domains both on European and national level. For the political domain only, decision-making at regional level is also covered.

New Internal Market Package for Goods
This new package of measures from the European Commission is intended to boost the intra-community trade in industrial goods. The measures (described below) will ensure that the internal market becomes a reality for all manufacturers and producers, and will make it easier for companies, especially SMEs, to trade their products in the European Union. High quality safe products continue to be the goal, whilst ensuring market access for goods.

Common framework for the marketing of products - guide
The European Parliament on 21 February 2008 adopted a broad package of measures to facilitate the functioning of the EU's internal market for goods. This will make it easier for companies, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, to sell their products in the EU whilst increasing the protection of consumers. For industrial products, existing market surveillance systems will be strengthened and, for the first time, aligned with import controls. Accreditation has also been introduced. This is a formal system which may now be used to ensure that conformity assessment bodies (or testing and certification laboratories) provide the high quality services that manufacturers need. The introduction of these measures serves to reinforce the role and credibility of CE marking. Improvements are also proposed for the trade with goods which do not fall under EU-legislation. From now on it will also be the duty of an EU Member State that intends to refuse market access for products that are legally marketed in other Member States to talk to the enterprise and to give detailed objective reasons for any possible refusal. This is intended to create new benefits for entrepreneurs as well as helping consumers broaden their choice. It is expected that the Council of the EU will approve the package of measures soon, so that it can enter into force next year.

Supplementary pension schemes and mobility in Europe: studies
Supplementary pension schemes continue to pose obstacles to mobility for workers across Europe according to two new independent studies, presented by the European Commission on 22 January 2008. The Commission says the studies support the case for a Europe-wide initiative to improve people's access to supplementary pension rights when changing jobs or working in another EU country. The Commission's proposal for a directive on the issue – revised in October 2007 – forms part of the work programme for the Slovenian EU Presidency.

Unfair commercial practices Directive - guide
The European Union's unfair commercial practices Directive - questions and answers

Opening public procurement to SMEs
The public procurement market in the EU – covering all levels of government and public agencies – is estimated to be worth around one-sixth of total GDP in the EU. This represents a huge market, and one from which Europe’s SMEs ought to be deriving a significant share. Yet although SMEs are not specifically excluded, the procedures and practices used in many tenders have the effect of disadvantaging SMEs over larger competitors. This situation is expected to improve with the ongoing implementation by Member States of the 2004 Directives reforming public procurement rules. The European Commission is further contributing to the process by pooling Member States and stimulating the exchange and dissemination of SME friendly practices.

New Common Procurement Vocabulary (CPV)
This EU Regulation updates the Common Procurement Vocabulary (CPV), which is the EU-wide classification system for public procurement contracts - Commission Regulation adopted on 28 November 2007 amending Regulation (EC) N° 2195/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Common Procurement Vocabulary (CPV) and Directives 2004/17/EC and 2004/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on public procurement procedures, as regards the revision of the CPV.

A Single Market for 21st Century Europe - guide
The European Commission on 20 November 2007 set out a package of initiatives to modernise the European single market and to bring more benefits to Europeans, building on past successes. The single market has already helped create competitive companies, reduced prices, more choice for consumers and a Europe attractive for investors. The Commission says its measures - which are based on "extensive consultation" - will ensure that the single market does even more to take advantage of globalisation, empower consumers, open up for small businesses, stimulate innovation and help maintain high social and environmental standards. Among the most important policy actions set out in today's single market package are initiatives to: help consumers to exercise their contractual rights and get redress across borders; provide better information for consumers and small businesses; respond to weaknesses in sectors where the single market should deliver more; propose a Small Business Act; and introduce a "researcher passport"; clarify how EU rules apply to services and social services of general interest; and promote the quality of social services across the EU.

EU directive to improve remedies in the area of public procurement - guide
The Council of the European Union and the European Parliament on 15 November 2007 adopted a Commission proposal for a Directive reviewing EU rules on remedies in the area of public procurement. This new Directive improves the national review procedures that businesses can use when they consider that a public authority has awarded a contract unfairly.

EU Single Market - benefits
Ten ways in which Europeans have benefited from the Single Market

European Private Company - guide
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about EU Company Law and the European Private Company (EPC)

Eurostars programme
The Eurostars Programme is the first European funding and support programme to be specifically dedicated to SMEs. Eurostars will stimulate them to lead international collaborative research and innovation projects by easing access to support and funding. The Eurostars Programme was officially launched in Brussels on 2 October 2007.

Safety and health at work - EU report
The central role of the ‘European Agency for Safety and Health at Work’ in promoting healthier, safer and more productive workplaces is underlined in its 2006 annual report, published 16 July 2007. It shines a spotlight on last year’s impact on young workers and small businesses and shows how the Agency continues to improve the quality of working life in an expanding European Union.

Bridging the Gender Pay Gap - EU guide
Across the EU economy, women continue to earn an average of 15% less than men, according to the European Commission. A new report released today sets out ways the EU can bridge the gap – which has barely changed over the past decade. The gender pay gap represents the difference between average hourly pay for women and men before tax across the economy as a whole. It reflects ongoing discrimination and inequality in the labour market which, in practice, mainly affects women.

Solvency II guide
The European Commission on 10 July 2007 proposed a ground-breaking revision of EU insurance law designed to improve consumer protection, modernise supervision, deepen market integration and increase the international competitiveness of European insurers. Under the new system, known as 'Solvency II', insurers would be required to take account of all types of risk to which they are exposed and to manage those risks more effectively. In addition, insurance groups would have a dedicated 'group supervisor' that would enable better monitoring of the group as a whole. The Commission aims to have the new system in operation in 2012. This proposal is part of the Commission's Better Regulation strategy and its firm commitment to simplify the regulatory environment and cut red tape. It will mean replacing 14 existing directives with a single directive. The proposal now passes to the European Parliament and Council for consideration.

EC Communication on VAT reduced rates – Frequently Asked Questions
The European Commission has launched a political debate on how to simplify current EU legislation on reduced VAT rates. In a Communication adopted on 5 July 2007, it considers that there is a real need for a simplification and rationalisation of the current VAT rates structure, in particular the reduced VAT rates. It believes that there is a place for more flexibility which would allow Member States to apply VAT reduced rates to local supplies. On the other hand, it says this flexibility needs to be balanced to ensure the proper functioning of the Internal Market and to avoid disproportionate compliance costs for business. To this extent, possible ways are put forward but no concrete proposal is made for new categories of products or services, given the need for prior political consideration by Member States. At the same time, the Commission proposes to extend, until the end 2010, most of the derogations which are about to come to an end.

EU reform of the wine market
The European Commission on 4 July adopted proposals for a wide-ranging reform of the EU's Common Market Organisation for wine. This aims to increase the competitiveness of EU producers, win back markets, balance supply and demand, simplify the rules, preserve the best traditions of EU wine production, reinforce the social fabric of rural areas and respect the environment. Under the proposals, all the inefficient market support measures – various aids for distillation, private storage aid, export refunds – would be abolished from day one. The addition of sugar to enrich wine – chaptalisation – would be banned, and aid for must for enrichment, introduced to compensate for the higher cost compared to chaptalisation, would also be abolished. Crisis distillation would be replaced by two crisis management measures, paid for from national financial envelopes. Much more money would go into promoting EU wine, particularly on third country markets. For a five-year transitional period, planting restrictions would be kept in place and uncompetitive producers would have the possibility to leave the sector with attractive financial support. After 2013, restrictions on planting would be lifted to allow competitive producers to expand their production if they so choose. Labelling rules would be made simpler, certain wine making practices accepted by all producer countries in the International Organisation of Vine and Wine would be adopted by the EU and quality policy would be based on a geographical origin approach. EU Member States would receive a national financial envelope and a menu of actions to allow them to take measures best suited to the local situation. More money would go into Rural Development to fund measures including the setting up of young wine producers and environmental protection.

50 years of the European Social Fund
On 28 June 2007, in Potsdam, Germany, a high-level event to mark the official 50th birthday of the European Social Fund (ESF) brought together EU Ministers and key players in the Fund. Organised by the German Presidency, the event reflected on how the ESF is helping millions of Europeans join and progress in the job market. The next generation of ESF programmes (2007-2013) will have a budget of EUR 77 billion for 27 Member States, providing funding in areas like training, ensuring better access to jobs, fighting discrimination and improving public services.

EU Race Equality Directive
The European Commission on 27 June sent formal requests to 14 EU Member States to fully implement EU rules banning discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin (2000/43/CE). The countries concerned – Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Slovakia – have two months to respond, failing which the Commission can take them to the European Court of Justice. The Race Equality Directive was agreed in 2000 with a deadline for implementation into national law by 2003.

International Mobile Roaming : how will new 'Eurotariffs' reduce cost of using a mobile phone in the European Union?
The European Union (EU) Regulation on international mobile roaming comes into force in the 27 EU Member States at the end of this week, meaning that consumers will be able to benefit from “Eurotariff” rates from August 2007.

European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF)
The EGF aims to help workers made redundant as a result of changing global trade patterns to find another job as quickly as possible. The fund was launched by the European Union in 2007 and will provide up to 500 million euro a year in support.

Timeshare and long-term holiday products in the EU: Questions and Answers
Consumers across the EU will benefit from tougher holiday protection when they buy and resell timeshare holidays, timeshare-like holidays on cruise boats, canal boats or caravans and popular "discount holiday clubs" - under new rules proposed by the European Commission today. The aim is to further boost consumer confidence in the Timeshare industry and to eliminate the rogue traders which can bring legitimate operators into disrepute and cause consumers problems.