On Thursday 30th June, the Border Focal Point Network organised the ninth episode of the ‘Beyond Borders: Breakfast Debates’ series. Despite representing 99% of all businesses in the EU and employing some 85 million people in the Single Market, SMEs still struggle to export to other EU Member States. At the same time, the Single Market provides excellent opportunities for SMEs in border regions, where an SME’s market may transcend borders, thus enhancing their potential.
The Border Focal Point Network’s own Ricardo Ferreira (DG REGIO) opened the session by stating that while borders might not seem to be there anymore thanks to the Single Market (removal of checks on goods inside EU) and the Schengen Agreement (freedom of movement for EU nationals and some non-EU countries), a perceivedborder still exists in many people’s minds. He pointed participants’ attention to the border effect: this is the loss of potential in growth from the existence of a border, even if it is a perceived border. One example of this effect is that SMEs operating in border regions often did not even realise that they could sell goods or services five kilometres across the border. After this introduction, we heard the results of the first poll from the audience, where participants singled out consumer- and trade-related advantages as the biggest advantage offered by the Single Market to SMEs in cross-border regions.
We then heard from two voices from the territories: Cinzia Dellagiacoma from the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), and Karolina Krukowska from the Rzeszow Regional Development Agency (PL-SK-UA). Cinzia Dellagiacoma introduced the b-solutions project, which aims to map legal and administrative obstacles towards cross-border cooperation, also in the SME sphere. She pointed to two types of obstacles for SMEs in cross-border regions: the recruitment of personnel on one hand, and the access to the products and services market on the other side of the border on the other hand. Karolina Krukowska introduced the Rzeszow Regional Development Agency’s activities and support measures for SMEs in the border region. Among other things, the Agency provides grants and loans, facilities such as laboratories, and operates a Science and Technology Park with office areas, warehouses and other places of interest for SMEs and start-ups. She pointed to the INTER VENTURES project, which aims to increase SMEs’ competitiveness in the cross-border area through advisory services. As the main barriers preventing SMEs from cooperating, she pointed out, among others, the lack of large urban centres, bureaucratic hurdles, the integration of non-EU (Ukrainian) citizens in the labour market, poor business interest and language barriers.
Following these two interventions, we saw the results of the second poll, where participants were asked about measures that could be taken to encourage entrepreneurs to develop their businesses across the borders. It transpired that a stronger political commitment from the EU and its Member States to alleviate administrative and legal obstacles, and more intensive collaboration between regional and local SME associations in the border regions were seen as the most important steps to take.
Next, we heard from Feike Kuipers, working for the European Commission’s DG GROW, who informed participants about the Single Market Enforcement Taskforce (SMET), which is running multiple projects on recognition and procedures in cross-border areas. Answering a question from the moderator on the alleged stagnating of the Single Market, he and Ricardo Ferreira pointed out that a lot is happening to continuously improve the Single Market, and at the same time the deepening of interactions leads to more problems and obstacles to solve. Interactions in cross-border regions have become much more complex in recent years, for instance in the linking up of energy grids across borders. Finally, all participants agreed that a deep understanding of the root causes of border obstacles is necessary and that the appropriate legal tools to do this must be created.
If you could not join us for this event or if you would like to watch it again, the recording is available here: