The EESC is urging the creation of a European network of special ombudsmen to help SMEs cope with the financial and funding issues they are experiencing, particularly as a result of the COVID crisis. The Committee also stresses that for SMEs to take up AI there needs to be the political will to support them in the process.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) at its January plenary session adopted two reports dealing with some of the most pressing issues impacting SMEs: recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, facing up to the digital and green revolutions and taking the exponential development of AI in their stride.
In the report, the EESC stresses that while SMEs are pivotal to the EU economy, accounting for 53% of the value added and 65% of jobs generated by all businesses in 2020, they need special support given the dire circumstances of the COVID-crisis.
“SMEs have kept the highest level of employment over the past two years across most of Europe. They have outdone all other sectors despite the huge blow dealt to the restaurant and tourism industries by the pandemic. This is all to their credit and they deserve all the help they can get to weather the storm,” says opinion rapporteur Milena Angelova.
In stark contrast to these strengths is the financial vulnerability of SMEs: access to credit, liquidity, cashflow and payments are all critical stumbling blocks for them. This is why the EESC is proposing the creation of a network of financial and funding ombudsmen in the Member States, to be coordinated by the EU. Their role would be to:
· promote SME access to funds;
· collect and analyse qualitative data to learn if and how intermediary banks use financial instruments to reach the SMEs most in need of financial resources and why credit is not granted to them;
· mediate disputes between SMEs and financing and funding providers.
“It is sad to have to call for a financial ombudsman, but there truly is a need for an authority to supervise the implementation of the recovery measures. Somebody to turn to, when your business is not getting proper or fair treatment for the finance support,” says opinion co-rapporteur Panagiotis Gkofas.