Supporting SMEs post-pandemic – How can policymakers ensure digital helps SME growth?
SMEs play a significant role in the economic well-being of the EU economy, accounting for over 60% of employment across the EU27 and the UK. SMEs are also a key driving factor for economic inclusivity. They push forward economic innovation and flexibility given their importance to entrepreneurship and new market entry, adoption of new innovative technologies, and overall wider benefits to market competition and ultimately to consumers.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, many SMEs expressed cautious optimism, with a positive economic outlook for growth and the opportunity to invest. But COVID-19 has seen many SMEs in a fight for survival. Despite the benefits of digitalisation, the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2020 data found SMEs lag behind larger businesses in adoption of nearly all technologies despite being connected to the internet at the same rate. This ‘digital divide’ presents policymakers with the task of supporting SMEs in the economic recovery.
While all SMEs have been impacted and face risks due to COVID-19, it is clear that the more digitalised SMEs - operating in sectors such as financial/insurance services and professional services - have identified new business opportunities in the pandemic economy at a higher rate than the less digitalised businesses, such as those operating in the construction, manufacturing and hospitality sectors.
Challenges related to availability, capacity and capability impede the ability of SMEs to digitalise and ultimately find new business opportunities. SMEs therefore look to policymakers to help with availability of tools and technologies required for digitalisation, such as high-speed connectivity in urban and rural areas; capacity (financial and time) to engage with digital transformations; and the capability to gauge, plan, implement and optimise their digital transformations through digital skills.
Join this EURACTIV – GIGAEurope Digital Debate to discuss how policymakers can support SMEs to maintain their economic resilience post-pandemic. Questions to be addressed include:
- Are current EU and national policies equipped to support SMEs in the cases of availability, capacity and capability?
- How can policy best mitigate a digital divide amongst European SMEs by addressing the financial constraints that impede the ability of SMEs to digitalise?
- Should the opportunities presented by the use of digital (e.g. flexible working) be prioritised in ongoing government policy support?
- What should a tailored policy approach look like for SMEs, as there can clearly not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach for ongoing SME support?
Outi Slotboom, Director, Strategy & Economic Analysis, DG GROW, European Commission
Josianne Cutajar MEP, Member ITRE Committee, Shadow Rapporteur "A new strategy for European SMEs", European Parliament
Sebastiano Toffaletti, Secretary-General, European DIGITAL SME Alliance
Sjoerd Hauptmeijer, CEO & Founder, The Young Digitals
Murielle Lorilloux, EU Cluster and Enterprise Americas & Asia Pacific Director, Vodafone Business
Brian Maguire, Journalist, EURACTIV
14:30 – 14:35 Welcome
14:35 – 14:50 Panellist statements
14:50 – 15:40 Discussion and Q&A
15:40 – 15:45 Closing statements
While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digitalisation of SMEs in the EU, experts argue that policymakers' focus should now move to infrastructure and education in order to bridge the remaining digital divide.