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Document 52000IE0592

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'European Charter for Small Companies'

OJ C 204, 18.7.2000, p. 57–58 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'European Charter for Small Companies'

Official Journal C 204 , 18/07/2000 P. 0057 - 0058

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the "European Charter for Small Companies"

(2000/C 204/13)

On 11 April 2000 the Economic and Social Committee, acting under Rule 23 (3) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an opinion on the "European Charter for Small Companies".

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 3 May 2000. The rapporteur was Mr Pezzini.

At its 373rd plenary session (meeting of 24 May 2000), the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion with 70 votes in favour and three abstentions.

1. Introduction

1.1. The Committee welcomes the decision of the Lisbon European Council to draw up a charter for small companies. This is particularly important in view of the challenge which the information society poses for all companies, and for small companies in particular. The decision bears witness to the greater understanding which the Member States and the Commission have been showing to small companies, especially over the last few years.

1.2. Small companies account for over 95 % of all businesses in the EU, and employ around two thirds of the total workforce. Each year, they generate between 60 and 80 % of all new jobs. The Committee also notes that small companies do not have the same financial and human resources as large firms, so any measures which do not cater for their special circumstances could pose a real obstacle to economic development and job creation.

1.3. It must be remembered that the general heading of small companies, which covers all activities, includes micro-businesses (fewer than ten employees), one-person businesses, and craft firms. These businesses play a universally recognised role in the creation of new enterprise and as a seedbed for work-based training and the teaching of practical skills(1).

1.4. The Committee asks the Commission to press ahead with the programme scheduled under the "integrated measures" and the BEST recommendations, in cooperation with the Member States.

1.5. The Commission and the Council should also continue to provide strategic assistance for small companies and craft businesses, using appropriate methods and instruments and the dissemination of best practice, in close consultation with socio-economic players.

1.6. The criteria for evaluating the results achieved need to be improved, using objective criteria such as the business start-up rate, the lifespan of new companies, the cost of credit, and the availability of risk capital for small companies.

These criteria could be used to establish a scoreboard of the aims and results achieved. The ESC could participate in this with the help of an ad hoc group, which could hold hearings in individual countries.


1. Community activities and programmes, and measures promoted by the Member States, must cater for the situation and needs of small companies.

2. School curricula and education and training bodies must help to stress the importance of entrepreneurship and the social and economic value of the work undertaken by small businessmen and their employees.

3. Consideration must be given to the cultural aspects and the social and contractual ramifications of relations between those working, at various levels, in small companies.

4. Support should be provided for schemes which help small companies (owners and employees) gain access to training, information, research and innovation, and boost their organisational and administrative capabilities and sustainable development.

5. Apprenticeship should be encouraged, as a way of instilling a spirit of enterprise in young people and as a pathway to success for particularly creative young people. The barriers which prevent young trainees from moving within the EU must be removed.

6. Small companies must be given easier access to finance, and the business succession process should be made less burdensome.

7. Some aspects of bankruptcy law should be reviewed and brought into line with business developments.

8. Public policies must facilitate market access for small companies, and especially for those in disadvantaged regions, removing existing restrictions, reducing unwarranted costs, and supporting the formation of business associations and the development of national and international networks.

9. A one-stop shop, with a single document and identification number, should be used for the start-up and development of small companies.

10. All the checks required under environmental and occupational safety legislation should be better coordinated at national level.

11. The implementation of rules governing relations between individual companies, and between companies and the authorities, should be streamlined and speeded up, by making greater use of the presumption that "silence equals consent" and by introducing an Advocate-General for small companies.

12. The taxation system should be further simplified, and micro-businesses with a very small turnover should be exempted from excessive tax obligations.

13. It must be made easier for small companies to participate in all Community programmes, especially those which concern research and innovation.

Brussels, 24 May 2000.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee

Beatrice Rangoni Machiavelli

(1) COM(95) 502 final - The craft industry and small enterprises: Keys to growth and employment in Europe.

(2) According to the conclusions of the Lisbon Council: fewer than 50 employees.