On 13-15 November, the European Commission (EC) and the Spanish Council Presidency co-organised the annual SME Assembly in Bilbao, Spain. EC refers to the SME Assembly as “the most significant event for SMEs in Europe”. The conference takes place once a year during the European SME week, and features high-level panels and interviews, expert round tables, interactive workshops, informative masterclasses and numerous networking opportunities.
This year’s SME Assembly hosted sessions on a wide range of current hot topics from a SME angle, including the twin digital and sustainable transition, access to finance, late payments, insolvency, innovation, access to skills and much more.
Accountancy Europe featured as one of the speaking organisations. Paul Gisby, Director for SMEs, participated in a panel about SMEs’ mentoring and solvency. He highlighted accountants’ – and particularly small and medium sized practitioners’ (SMPs) – key role in helping SME owners plan their financials, support them with data collection and analysis of that data. All of this will help SME owners to be aware of potential financial risks affecting the business early on, and to prepare accordingly. Paul had a strong message to the SME audience: “ask more from your accountants!”
Accountancy Europe has previously worked on early warning and insolvency risks for SMEs, and for example in 2021 published a paper on this topic. The paper includes 2 checklists to support SMEs and their advisors: one on early warning risk signs, and another on mitigating measures.
On 17 October, EC published a call for evidence on rationalisation of reporting burdens. EC is inviting stakeholders to provide suggestions for “rationalisation” of reporting requirements that stem from EU legislation, without undermining the underlying policy objectives. The initiative aims to contribute to EC’s efforts to cut reporting burden from legislation by 25%.
EC seeks to rationalise reporting requirements by:
The deadline for stakeholder feedback is 28 November, after which EC will aim to organise stakeholder workshops to gather additional feedback.
EC published the ‘final’ delegated act (DA) to adjust SME thresholds in the EU Accounting Directive for inflation on 17 October. This follows a short stakeholder feedback gathering period that ran from 13 September to 6 October.
The final DA contains only very little changes to the draft DA that was flagged in the October SME Update. However, it does clarify the timeline for the application of the new thresholds. Member States are to apply these new thresholds at the latest from financial year 2024, with the possibility to opt for early application for financial year 2023.
As usual with such DAs, the European Parliament (EP) and Council now have two months to reject it. If they do not, it will automatically enter into force.
The Single Market Programme helps the single market reach its full potential and ensure that Europe recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. The programme finances activities, e.g. on internal market and market surveillance, standardisation, SMEs, consumer protection, food safety and European statistics, by providing an integrated package to support and strengthen the single market, with a budget of €4.2 billion over 2021-2027.
EC published on 14 November a call for evidence to help it assess the programme’s performance over 2021-2023. Stakeholders have until 12 December to provide their feedback.
A new Eurobarometer survey released on 14 November finds that skills shortages are one of the most serious problems for SMEs in the EU. The challenge of skills shortages has grown over the years and now encompasses all EU Member States and all sectors of the economy.
The Eurobarometer study on ‘SMEs and skills shortages’ was initiated in the context of the European year of skills. It was carried out between September and October 2023 in the 27 EU Member States as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, North Macedonia, Turkey, the United States, Canada and Japan. More than 19 350 companies (both SMEs and large companies) were interviewed via telephone.
The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in charge of preparing the European Parliament’s (EP) position on the Late Payments Regulation – flagged in the October SME Update – have been announced. The MEP leading on the file is Rosa Thun (RE/Poland). The supporting MEPs from other political Groups include Antonius Manders (EPP/Netherlands), Tsvetelina Penkova (S&D/Bulgaria) and Claude Gruffat (Greens/France).
According to Ms. Thun, her draft report is to be expected for 4 December. European Parliament is co-legislating on the file together with the Council representing EU Member States.
On October 25, EP’s IMCO Committee organised a public hearing on the revision of the Late Payments Directive (LPR) together with the representatives of EC, the MEP rapporteurs and several external guests. The discussion focused on how to make the LPR reach its objectives.
Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska, Member of the Executive Committee of the European Law Institute, raised concerns that the LPR’s proposed 30-day limit for payments could breach freedom of contract. Antonella Ferrara, Senior Assistant Professor in Applied Economics at the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Calabria, for her part felt that the proposal would stimulate investments, foster improved planning for SMEs, and subsequently yield positive effects on employment, innovation, and supply chains.
MEP Rosa Thun (RE/Poland) in charge of the file in EP (see above) proposed unifying B2B transactions with a fixed 30-day payment term while allowing room for negotiations to extend this period to 60 or 90 days. As an alternative she proposed enforcing a 30-day payment term for B2B transactions but introducing provisions for exceptional cases or sector-specific exemptions, such as those for seasonal non-food goods.