Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) form the basis of the EU economy. Around 99% of all companies in the Union are SMEs, generating just over half of the EU's economic output in the non-financial sector. These 21 million companies employ approximately 100 million people, thus accounting for 65% of all jobs in the non-financial business sector.
Internationalization is an important growth factor in the EU. The growth of companies through international trade also has a positive effect on employment. Within the Union, 56 million jobs depend on intra-EU trade2, and more than 38 million depend on exports to third countries. Although precise figures on the number of SME jobs dedicated to international trade (both inside and outside the Union) are not available, it is estimated that SME exporters account for only 30% of the total value of exports to third countries.
European and global markets are therefore important for the development of SMEs. The small size of these companies does not mean, or should not mean, that they cannot try to get the same benefits from cross-border trade as large companies and, given the scale of the SME sector, measures to help them grow can have a significant effect on jobs and growth in the EU.
A EU global policy for the internationalization of SMEs, both in the single market and outside the Union, is based on the Small Business Act (SBA). This initiative is the cornerstone of support for small and medium-sized enterprises and aims to create coherence between the many EU instruments and actions that promote the international growth of European SMEs. It also establishes the principles governing the Union's initiatives in this field and encourages Member States to follow similar principles and priorities in their own policies to support the internationalization of SMEs.
The principles established in the SBA were followed in 2011 by the Commission communication "Small Business, Big World", which established an EU strategy for the internationalization of SMEs. The strategy aimed to respond to challenges, provide coherence to the existing set of actions to support the international growth of European SMEs and establish the principles that should govern any EU initiative in this field from 2014 onwards.
The Commission committed to a series of actions to implement the strategy and achieve the above objectives. These actions included an in-depth mapping and subsequent analysis of existing support actions at EU and national level, a reinforcement of the European Enterprise Network (EEN) as the main EU instrument to provide direct support to the internationalization of SMEs, and the promotion of business clusters and networks for the internationalization of SMEs.
The SBA and the internationalization strategy were complemented by a series of communications on international trade, the single market, start-ups and scale-ups, access to finance and other topics with an impact on the internationalization of SMEs. The EU has created several instruments to support the internationalization of SMEs, which differ considerably in terms of strategy and objectives. They range from general information and advice support networks to financial assistance and IT tools, as well as portals and helpdesks providing information on regulatory requirements for international trade.
The scope of this investment specifically encompasses the visibility of companies at an international level, supporting promotional actions carried out in foreign markets, namely press relations, public relations, market consultancy and technical assistance in preparing adverse and marketing campaigns, which includes contracting services in the areas of mailing and telemarketing, advertising and specialized media.