11 March 2021

Removing barriers to support SMEs: the CMU initiative

In this Q&A, European Commission DG FISMA’s Policy officer Morana Mavricek talks with Johan Barros, Manager at Accountancy Europe, on the Capital Markets Union, its role with regard to SMEs, and the European Commission’s work on the matter for the upcoming months.

Q. Could you briefly explain what the Capital Markets Union (CMU) initiative is?

A. CMU is a key structural reform programme of the European Commission to enhance access to finance for businesses, remove barriers to investing across borders and complete the single market for capital. The EU now has 27 national capital markets that are neither fully developed nor integrated.

The CMU is essential to create more financing opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups and larger companies. The CMU Action Plan commits the Commission to 16 legislative and non-legislative actions, with a clear timeline for delivery. The crisis we have been experiencing for almost one year now reinforces the need for a CMU that supports financial stability, and reduces companies’ overreliance on bank lending.

Q. Why is CMU relevant for SMEs?

A. Facilitating access to finance for SMEs and high-growth innovative companies has been the CMU’s key goal since its launch in 2015. The Commission has already made considerable progress in addressing barriers to SMEs’ access to finance and diversifying their financing options.

Alternative sources of finance – including crowdfunding, venture capital, private equity and public equity – should play a bigger role in financing companies, especially SMEs. This is why the Commission has been trying to tackle barriers at all funding stages.

There are many measures put forward by the new CMU Action Plan in September 2020, which aim to further facilitate market funding and help SMEs employ all possible funding sources.

Q. Could you give an example?

A. One of the measures – the European Single Access Point (ESAP) – aims to make companies, including SMEs, more visible to cross-border investors. It sets up an EU-wide platform that provides investors with seamless access to comparable company information.

ESAP seeks to encompass a wide scope of public information, both financial and sustainability-related, for a broad range of users such as investors, financial intermediaries and civil society. It will also examine whether and how to embed information beyond the financial services area, such as non-listed SMEs and other entities with no access to capital markets.

DG FISMA is launching targeted workshops with relevant stakeholders to assist in this policy’s development. A targeted consultation on ESAP was also launched on 20 January and we welcome the input of Accountancy Europe’s members.

Q. Accountancy Europe has submitted its response to the ESAP consultation, which is of high relevance for SMEs. What else is the Commission working on in the area of CMU and SMEs?

A. We have set up a technical expert group to assess whether public market listing rules could be further simplified. We are looking at potential solutions for the lack of SME research, administrative burden that SMEs face when trying to access public markets relating to market abuse framework and Prospectus Regulation.

One initiative we are currently exploring with relevant stakeholders is organising a consortium of like-minded entities to support SME research. It would propose schemes to co-finance research for SMEs listed on all venues and finding ways to share research with investors across the EU.

Similar initiatives exist on national level, for example, BME providing funding to the Lighthouse, which in turn provides research on SMEs with orphaned stock.

Q. What about the SMEs accessing public markets and alternative financing sources to banking?

A. The SME Growth Market regulation should facilitate high-growth SMEs’ access to public markets. However, there are other barriers to address. Access to public markets is not only essential to finance innovative companies during their expansion, but also to attract more investors at earlier funding stages by providing them opportunities for exit.

A fragile investor base is one of the issues. This is why Commission President von der Leyen called for the creation of a private-public fund to help finance initial public offerings of SMEs, to complement existing public support measures at early funding stages. The agreement on InvestEU [EU’s proposed flagship investment programme to kick-start the European economy] has enabled us to start negotiations with the potential implementing partner on the fund’s more concrete set up.

We have also started to assess the merits of introducing a requirement for banks to direct SMEs to alternative sources of financing, when they turned down their credit application. We will soon publish a targeted questionnaire on such a scheme’s potential functioning and structure.

Accountancy Europe, as SMEs’ trusted advisors representative, looks forward to supporting the EC’s work on SME access to capital markets.

Morana Mavricek is a Policy Officer in the Capital Markets Union Unit of DG FISMA, European Commission. She is working on the issues relating to SME access to finance as well as working on the files that overlap between capital markets and securities markets. Prior to this, Morana worked for a number of years at the Brussels-based public affairs consultancy leading on capital markets and securities markets issues. Morana started her career in the European Parliament, having finalised her Masters degree (LLM) in EU law.

Disclaimer: Morana MAVRICEK gave this interview in her personal capacity. Her opinion therefore does not represent the European Commission’s official positions.

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