The European Charter for Small Enterprises, endorsed by the Feira European Council (19 and 20 June 2000), states that the situation of small business in the European Union can be improved by action to stimulate entrepreneurship, to evaluate existing measures, and when necessary, to make them small-business-friendly, and to ensure that policy-makers take due consideration of small business needs. In this Charter the Member States pledged themselves to: strengthen the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship; achieve a regulatory, fiscal and administrative framework conducive to entrepreneurial activity; ensure access to markets on the basis of the least burdensome requirements that are consistent with overriding public policy objectives; facilitate access to the best research and technology; improve access to finance and performance continuously, so that the EU will offer the best environment for small business in the world; listen to the voice of small business; and promote top-class small business support. The Charter commits the Member States to work along ten lines of action in order to achieve these objectives. The Charter has political rather than legal value, since it cannot be called upon in courts, but small business organisations in the member countries may exercise pressures on their governments to honour their commitments.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the EU economy. Their prosperity is a crucial factor for achieving more growth and more and better jobs in the EU. That is why SME policy has become a key element of the renewed Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs and SMEs' concerns have been placed at the heart of European and national policies by applying the ''think small first'' principle.
As seen above, the Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises (COSME) (2014 - 2020) aims to contribute to the reinforcement of competitiveness and sustainability of Union enterprises, in particular SMEs, to support existing SMEs, to encourage an entrepreneurial culture and to promote the growth of SMEs, the advancement of the knowledge society, and development based on balanced economic growth [Regulation 1287/2013, see section 17.1.3]. The specific objectives of the COSME programme are: to improve access to finance for SMEs in the form of equity and debt; and to improve access to markets, particularly inside the Union but also at global level; and to improve framework conditions for the competitiveness and sustainability of Union enterprises, particularly SMEs, including in the tourism sector. The COSME programme addresses therefore market failures which affect the competitiveness of the Union economy on a global scale and which undermine the capacity of enterprises, particularly SMEs, to compete with their counterparts in other parts of the world.
The website http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/admin-burdens-reduction/home_en.htm is part of the “Action Programme for reducing administrative burdens in the European Union”, which is meant to identify and suppress unnecessary administrative burdens [COM/2007/23]. The website enables entrepreneurs to voice their concerns directly to the European Commission and to submit ideas on how to reduce their administrative burdens and, therefore, the administrative costs arising from European legislation and its implementation at national level.
In a 2005 communication the Commission highlights the major challenges SMEs face daily, proposes new actions to strengthen their capacity to sustain in the market, to grow and to create jobs and new ways to enhance dialogue and consultation with SME stakeholders [COM/2005/551]. Aiming ta the implementation of the Lisbon Integrated Guidelines and the Community Lisbon Programme, the Communication provides a coherent framework for the various enterprise policy instruments and aims at making the “Think Small First” principle effective across all EU policies. On 13 March 2006, the Council welcomed the Commission's aim to promote a coherent and single approach for SMEs.
Although for practical reasons we are examining enterprise policy in the chapter for industry, it should be stressed that this policy concerns not just industry but practically every economic sector, in particular craft business and distribution. Indeed, the new policy dovetails with common policies that predate it, viz. those concerning the operation of the single market, economic and social cohesion, research and technological development and environmental protection. Thus, given that it supplements and is itself supplemented by other common policies, the common enterprise policy has three broad objectives, which we shall examine below: to create a legal framework which lends itself to the setting up and development of enterprises in the Union; to create an economic environment which will help enterprises reach their full development in the single market; and to promote cooperation between enterprises situated in different regions of the European Union.