Digitalisation of SMEs: How to make it possible?

21 October 2019
Panel discussion on 16 October in Brussels to position micro-businesses and SMEs at the centre of the EU policy programme for the next five years

On October 16, METRO in partnership with EuroCommerce brought on stage stakeholders of the European SME policy scene to highlight the opportunities and importance of digitalisation for micro, small and medium-sized companies in different sectors of activity. Together with the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Finnish SME Envoy, Allegro and representatives of SME associations, we discussed the main elements of the European SME policy action agenda for the next political cycle.

Panel discussion

Neil McMillian at the podium

Neil McMillan, Eurocommerce; © METRO AG

In his initial remarks, Eurocommerce’s Director of Advocacy and Public Affairs Neil McMillan welcomed all of the guests and panelists and framed the discussion by emphasizing the relevance of SMEs and micro-companies for the European economy. Moreover, he also addressed some of the main challenges facing entrepreneurs and small businesses when “going online”, such as the lack of expertise or access to basic knowledge and capacities.

Representing the Finish EU Presidency, the SME Envoy Petri Peltonen, Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, delivered the keynote. In his speech, he emphasized the need to find a “European recipe” for growth and success as the rest of the world is economically thriving while Europe is lagging behind economically. His first impression of the new European Commission is very positive, as three senior Commissioners will focus on digitalization and SMEs to some extend within their respective portfolios and remembered Ursula von der Leyen’s words referring to SMEs as “all that is good for Europe”In this regard, he highlighted the importance of horizontal integration and cross-cutting administration to develop powerful SME policies.

Peri Peltonen at the podium

Petri Peltonen, Finish EU Presidency; © EuroCommerce

The panel debate started with Jasmin Battista, Head of Unit “E-Commerce and Platforms” of the European Commission, who confirmedng that SME will be placed at the center of policy-making for the next five years, for example within the Digital Service Act and the revision of the E-Commerce directive.

Birgit Winn, Head of Digital Projects at Hospitality.Digital, explained why METRO as a wholesale company is so active and supportive when it comes to its customer’s digitalization. Micro-companies and SMEs are METRO’s core customers and by supporting them in the field of digitalization, this creates an opportunity for further innovation and growth. Indeed, although most entrepreneurs are “digital” in their private lives, their businesses are very often not, as they lack basic tools, funds and knowledge.

Tweet about DiSH

Birgitt Winn, Hospitality.Digital; © EuroCommerce

Referring to the issue of funding, Katerina Borunska from DG Research and Innovation, added that the first step to support SMEs would be to increase access to funding at all levels (EU, national and regional).

The Member of the European Parliament and President of SME Europe Ivan Stefanec (EPP, Slovakia) highlighted the objectives for the new European Parliament to “simplify the lives of SMEs”. First, the Single Market needs to be completed by a capital union so that start-ups and small companies have better access to capital. In addition, the Digital Single Market, which is still fragmented, needs to be completed, the Single Market further harmonized and the digital infrastructure improved.

Tweet about initiatives in Portugal

Tweet by EuroCommerce; © EuroCommerce

A successful example of supporting digitalization of SMEs was presented by Alexandre Fonseca, President of the Portuguese Digital Economy Association (ACEPI). ACEPI in cooperation with the Portuguese government has established an association of more than 100 SMEs and they are offering trainings about digitalization of small SMEs in around 150 cities all over the country.

Marta Mikliszanska, Head of Public Affairs of Allegro, largest e-commerce platform in Poland, noted that SMEs do not have very often the means to represent their interests at European level effectively. Therefore, large companies which are benefiting from digital success and economies of scale should also consider and transport clear messages when representing the interests of their SME partners.

Finally, Mira-Maria Kontkanen, Advisor of the Federation of Finish Enterprises, explained that one of the main challenges for the SMEs is to stay up to date. There are two groups of SMEs: Small companies, such start-ups, highly digitalized with tech employees and second group of companies in more traditional sectors, others which are struggling not to lose their competitiveness. In addition, she sent a clear message: when it comes to SMEs, what is at stake is the competitiveness of Europe.

In his closing remarks, SME Connect’s Henrik Reimer urged all stakeholders to use the current window of opportunity to work together, go beyond the dichotomy between large and small companies to make the digital transformation in the European ecosystem happen.

METRO International Own Business Study

During the event, we also presented METRO’s Own Business Study 2019. The results of the study clearly show that there is a need to support a further digitalization of SMEs especially in the hospitality sector. More information about the study can be found here.