The Assembly of European Regions, together with finance.Brussels, the Region of Brussels-Capital and Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), will organise a seminar in Brussels on 20 November about “Investing in SMEs – How to meet the needs of the regional entrepreneurial fabric and make the most of support tools”.
The seminar aims at gathering the stakeholders to hold concrete discussion and share experiences in the field. Regional authorities, managers of SMEs, experts and investment agencies will join the panel of experts to address the topic. New Europe asked Jean-Luc Vanraes, Chairman of the AER Working Group on Investment, Business and SMEs, to explain in more detail what can be done to stimulate SME’s:
Jean-Luc Vanraes: Actually, we have two main goals and two issues in this seminar on 20 November, both issues being very important for Europe’s economy in its present state. First of all, we see that SMEs have growing difficulties in obtaining loans and help for investments. Banks are reluctant to invest in this kind of capital and there is more and more need for regional help in this respect. We have a structure dealing with this in Belgium, and also here in Brussels: it is an investment company funded by the Brussels region, the “Regional Society for Investment”. Such a company helps SMEs find funds and invest, providing also help from analysts about investment strategies.
New Europe: Is this is a situation peculiar to Belgium, given that here the regions, the federal entities have very large administrative and financial powers?
Jean-Luc Vanraes: Yes. In most other regions of Europe such a structure does not exist, although most people in Europe work in SMEs. We have some 230 regions as members, and most of them have the same problem: SMEs are looking for investment capital. That’s why we would like to organise the same kind of structure in other regions. The first part of our meeting on 20 November will consist in informing the other regions about the existing possibilities. The second idea that we will be promoting will be the following: big companies and SMEs need to meet across Europe, so we will organise some sittings in the afternoon, on 20 November, divided by speciality, according to the branch of activity they manage.
New Europe: What exactly are those specialities?
Jean-Luc Vanraes: We detected five branches important for Europe’s economy right now: ICT and Audiovisual, Space Solutions, Transport Innovation, Agro-alimentary and Green Economy. 30 regions are bringing projects and will discuss in one or the other of these activities. We hope many more will send projects until then.
New Europe: What other countries have such a structure as Belgium?
Jean-Luc Vanraes: France, for instance. Some German and Austrian Länder as well. Such a structure is actually working like a bank, but on a higher risk scale.
New Europe: Where do the funds of such a structure come from?
Jean-Luc Vanraes: The region should provide the start capital. The structure, then, functions autonomously. Such a structure can give a loan, or take over part of the shares. It’s going from micro investment to macro investment. Companies in trouble don’t have to go to the state for help anymore.
New Europe: How about cross-regional cooperation?
Jean-Luc Vanraes: That will exactly be the purpose of the seminar. Let’s take the case of an SME: a restaurant. Our structure could help that particular SME find products or investment in other regions.
New Europe: Do cultural differences have to be taken into account?
Jean-Luc Vanraes: They are an advantage. Let’s take health care. Some cultures have an approach to health care that could be learned and profited from. I am managing some rest houses, and elderly people say that nurses from Central Africa are excellent in their job. That’s why we should never ignore the cultural contacts and differences we can learn from.