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Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs
Press release23 September 2020Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs2 min read

Survey confirms the need to support small and medium-sized businesses on their path towards digitalisation and sustainability

While all key results refer to EU SMEs, the survey was conducted among over 12,000 companies from all EU countries (and over 3.000 companies from 12 non-EU countries) between February and May this year. It shows that 42% of EU SMEs say that the availability of support to help enterprises become more sustainable is poor.

The survey was conducted just before the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis was fully felt by EU businesses and at the time of the adoption of the new EU SME strategy in March this year. The strategy aims to considerably increase the number of SMEs engaging in sustainable business practices as well as the number of SMEs employing digital technologies, so this new Eurobarometer confirms that the new strategy not only remains valid, but is more important than ever, as it is a crucial tool for recovery after the COVID-19 crisis.

Other key findings of the Eurobarometer survey on EU SMEs, start-ups, scale-ups and entrepreneurship

  • About one in five SMEs cite lack of skills among the barriers to engage in more sustainable practices, digitalise, and innovate. So to support SMEs to master the twin transition to sustainability and digitalisation and to grow, we also need to make sure that they have access to the right skills and expertise.
  • Stimulating demand for green products and services is also an issue in the transition to sustainability, as a lack of customer demand (30%) comes out on top of the barriers to sustainability that SMEs face. The most mentioned barrier to digitalisation is uncertainty about future digital standards (24%). In terms of both sustainability and digitalisation a lack of financial resources is the next most cited barrier.
  • There is a need to help SMEs take advantage of the growth opportunities offered by international markets, within and beyond the EU. Only 26% of EU SMEs exported their goods or services in 2019, nine in ten of these only to other EU countries.
  • The survey data also confirms the necessity to address other key issues identified by the new SME strategy. SMEs report that the biggest problems they face are regulatory obstacles or administrative burdens (55%), payment delays (35%), poor access to finance (21%) and a lack of skills (17%), all of these being among the key areas of the new SME strategy.
  • The survey confirms that start-ups and scale-ups have the same major needs as SMEs, but there are some nuances. For instance, compared to SMEs, a higher share of start-ups and scale-ups have problems with access to finance and skills. Among those planning to grow, a higher share of start-ups (28%) and scale-ups (24%) than SMEs in general (17%) plan to grow in other EU countries. A larger share of start-ups and scale-ups (about 30%) than SMEs (about 20%) have a strategy or action plan to digitalise. A similar pattern is observed in terms of having a strategy or action plan to become sustainable, as four in ten start-ups and scale-ups have it, as compared to three in ten SMEs in general.

Flash Eurobarometers are ad hoc, thematic interviews conducted at the request of any service of the European Commission. They enable the Commission to obtain quick results and focus on specific target groups.

The new survey is a rich source of new data on SMEs, start-ups and scale-ups. See more by visiting the full survey (below). The findings will support evidence-based policy-making at both EU and national level and benefit the implementation process of the Recovery Plan for Europe.

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