The FINANCIAL -- The European Commission has adopted a programme to support Small and Medium Sized enterprises (SMEs) and trade opportunities in the countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) region, which includes Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine .
SMEs are a key driver of economic growth and employment. They play an increasingly important role in the transition towards dynamic market-driven economies. Although the contribution of SMEs to employment in the Eastern Partnership countries is about 50% this is still rather low compared to the EU where 2 out of 3 jobs are created by SMEs.
The funding comes from the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). This is the main financial and cooperation instrument though which the assistance is given to the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries and Russia. The Eastern Partnership countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine .
“Our Eastern neighbours have been hit hard by the economic crisis. Small and medium sized enterprises can play a key role in generating jobs and economic growth because they respond quickly to opportunities created by the market. It is therefore our crucial task to support small businesses in the Eastern Partnership region”, said Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle.
As one of the flagship initiatives of the Eastern Partnership, the programme covers following activities:
Support to partner countries’ institutions to put in place and implement policy and legislative reforms in support of SMEs. This activity will build on the EU-financed assessment carried out in 2012 on the Progress in the implementation of the Small Business Act for Europe in the EaP countries, which showed that practices vary between countries but generally improvements are required in all areas (e.g. the regulatory framework and policy making, access to finance, procurement, women entrepreneurship, green economy, etc.)
Extension of the East-Invest project, which supports Business Support organisations in the EaP countries and promotes trade opportunities between European and EaP companies. It will be implemented through a collaboration of the three EU Business Representation Organisations - Eurochambers, Business Europe and EUAPME (Union Européenne de l'Artisanat et des Petites et Moyennes Entreprises).
Strengthening auditing and reporting capacity of SMEs’ to improve their access to financing in the EaP countries. This activity mirrors a similar programme implemented with success in the Western Balkan by the Centre for Financial Reporting Reforms, part of the World Bank .
The overall value of the new business support programme for the Eastern Partnership countries is €10 million and the project is expected to start in the second half of this year.
Under the first East Investment project more than 100 representatives of Business Associations and 200 representatives of SMEs have been trained.Furthermore more than 150 SMEs from the region are participating at European Trade fairs, while investment conferences are being organised in each of the 6 EaP counties to attract European investors and trade partners to the region.
The Eastern Partnership was launched in 2009 at the Prague summit aiming to accelerate political association and economic integration between the EU and its eastern neighbours. Under the Eastern Partnership four platforms and several panels have been established through which progress is being discussed. This SME programme forms part of the SME Flagship under the Eastern Partnership.