European Commission threatens to leave small firms in the lurch

23 November 2014

European Commission threatens to leave small firms in the lurch

Michaël van Straalen, president of MKB-Nederland, which represents small and medium-sized Dutch firms, during the SP’s day for smaller businesses

Since 2009 the Commission has been examining new legislation for its effects on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This ‘SME test’ forms part of the impact assessment which the Commission must in principle attach to every proposal. Evidently the Commission finds all of this work too much, because in new guidelines the SME test no longer forms an obligatory part of the impact assessment. Chances are then that the interests of small firms will be overshadowed, but we are not simply going to let this happen. In a motion which will be voted on this week in Strasbourg, we attempt to make it the Commission’s duty to perform an SME impact assessment on all new proposals. The SP stands up for the interests of the smaller business.

In the summer the Commission held a public consultation on its ideas. The problem with this is that it wasn’t so easy to find out that such a consultation was taking place, which is perhaps why not a single organisation representing small or medium-sized businesses reacted. A shame, because it means that the Commission can say that its plans provoked no resistance from SMEs. Of course, if none of them knew about the consultation, you won’t get any resistance.

The quality of the existing impact assessments is in any case not that great. The conclusion is invariably that doing nothing isn’t possible, and that from the available choices the Commission has chosen the best option. In recent years, however, there has been within the Commission a semi-independent unit which judges their quality. In the Netherlands we have ACTAL, an organisation which is truly independent of policymakers and lawmakers and we should have the same at the Commission. Yet in the new directive there is no mention of a semi-independent determination of the quality of impact assessments. The Commission clearly wants to coordinate these reports. The butcher will thus inspect and approve his own meat.

At the European Commission Dutch Commissioner Frans Timmermans is responsible for improving regulation. Admittedly the proposal for impact assessments in the new directive dates from the previous Commission, but Timmermans will be responsible for the formal adoption of the new guidelines. If he agrees to it, we will know for sure that he has no feeling for smaller firms. If the European Parliament adopts the motion this week, he won’t at least be able to say that he didn’t know anything about it.

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