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SMEs in the EU

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

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.

State aid: SMEs insist on the need to polish "general block exemption"
UEAPME, the European craft and SME employers' organisation, presented the European Commission today with its comments on the first draft "General Block Exemption Regulation" (GBER) on State aid.

Quality of work in Europe – a top priority
Improving the quality of work should be a top priority in the EU, according to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) in its Fourth European Working Conditions Survey.

Risk Sharing Finance Facility (RSFF)
The European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have joined forces to set up the Risk Sharing Finance Facility (RSFF). RSFF is an innovative scheme to improve access to debt financing for private companies or public institutions promoting activities in the field of: * Research, Technological Development Demonstration, and * Innovation investments. * RSFF is built on the principle of credit risk sharing between the European Community and the EIB and extends therefore the ability of the Bank to provide loans or guarantees with a low and sub-investment grade risk profile (involving financial risks above those normally accepted by investors). The scheme also provides a wealth of opportunities for new and innovative EIB financing solutions directed at the private sector and the research community as a whole.

Risk-Sharing Finance Facility (RSFF) – Questions and answers
On 5 June 2007, the European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) signed a cooperation agreement establishing the new risk-sharing finance facility (RSFF) to support research & innovation in Europe. This new instrument is designed to help to make more financing available for promoters of research & innovation projects, which often face more difficulties than traditional business sectors in accessing finance, due to the relatively high levels of uncertainty & risk inherent to their activity. The RSFF, part of the EU's 7th Research Framework Programme (FP7) & EIB’s programme for Research & Innovation, will partially cover the financial risks assumed by the EIB when financing this type of activity. The contribution of EUR 1 billion each from FP7 & the EIB will therefore unlock billions of additional financing in this area.

The EU and musculoskeletal disorders
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common work-related health problem in Europe, affecting millions of workers. Across the EU27, 25 per cent of workers complain of backache and 23 per cent report muscular pains. Lighten the load, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work's 2007 campaign to tackle MSDs in the workplace, supports an integrated management approach with three key elements. First, employers, employees and government need to work together to tackle MSDs. Secondly, any actions should address the ‘whole load on the body’, which covers all the stresses and strains being placed on the body, environmental factors such as cold working conditions, and the load being carried. Thirdly, employers need to manage the retention, rehabilitation and return to work of employees with MSDs.

European Business Council in Japan
The National European Chambers of Commerce and Business Organisations in Japan together with their collective trade policy arm, the European Business Council (EBC), form the premier business networking platform for Europeans in Japan. With close to 3,000 European and Japanese members, this network reaches deep into the business communities of both Europe and Japan, and has close ties with the National European Governments and the European Commission. Many of the European members of this network have mastered the Japanese language and have a long history of involvement in the Japanese business environment. The EBC has been working to improve the trade and investment environment for European companies in Japan since 1972.

Leipzig Charter will fail unless SME dimension is considered - UEAPME
UEAPME, the European craft and SME employers’ organisation, welcomed the adoption of a "Charter on Sustainable European Cities" at the Leipzig informal meeting of Ministers for Urban Development and Territorial Cohesion on 25 May 2007.

Better Training for Safer Food annual report 2006
Better Training for Safer Food is a European Union initiative aimed at organising EU training for national control authorities who are responsible for verifying compliance with food and feed law, animal health and welfare rules, and plant health rules. This report gives details of the background to the initiative and the work carried out in preparation for the launch of training activities in 2006.

Better Training for Safer Food annual report
The Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General of the European Commission manages the Better Training for Safer Food initiative. This report describes the activity of Better Training for Safer Food in 2006.

Test to help SMEs verify status
A new web-based test to help European companies find out if they correspond to the EU definition of small and medium sized enterprise (SME) is now available online. Developed by the Walloon regional authorities, the tool aims to serve the European Commission in negotiating contracts under the Seventh Framework help to National Contact Points (NCPs) in helping SMEs find out if they are eligible for participation in an FP7 scheme, or for higher funding rates.

Sanctions against employers of illegally staying third-country nationals
The European Commission on 16 May 2007 presented a proposal for an EU Directive to tackle the pull factor for illegal immigrants created by employers providing illegal work. The Directive on sanctions against such employers is part of a comprehensive European Migration policy which supports legal migration, fights illegal migration, builds cooperation with Third Countries and works with the development agenda. Two Communications on the external dimension of migration were also published on the same day.

Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs)
The use of Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) can help to design information and communication systems and services in a way that minimises the collection and use of personal data and facilitate compliance with data protection rules. The use of PETs should result in making breaches of certain data protection rules more difficult and/or helping to detect them.

Payment Services Directive: Frequently Asked Questions
The aim of the PSD is to ensure that payments within the EU – in particular credit transfer, direct debit and card payments – become as easy, efficient, and secure as domestic payments within a Member State, by providing the legal foundation to make the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) possible. The PSD will reinforce the rights and protection of all the users of payment services (consumers, retailers, large and small companies and public authorities).

International customs operation Diabolo
The joint 'Diabolo' customs operation was a maritime operation that focused on containers shipped from Asian ports of loading to EU ports of discharge. The operation focused mainly on counterfeit cigarettes, but the possibility that other counterfeit goods or sensitive goods could be retained or seized by the EU Member States was also incorporated.

Unsafe products in the EU - overview
If a product on the European market causes a serious risk to the health and safety of consumers, action can be taken at three different levels to eliminate the risk.

Safety Gate: the rapid alert system for dangerous non-food products
The Safety Gate rapid alert system enables quick exchange of information between EU/EEA member states, the UK and the European Commission about dangerous non-food products posing a risk to health and safety of consumers.