EU measures to help small firms

The European Commission is poised to unveil a range of measures designed to tackle an ‘alarming’ lack of take-up of e-business by Europe’s smaller companies.

The GoDigital initiative — which officially launches in Brussels on April 6 — will aim to increase web-based commerce among small and medium-sized companies across the European single market.

Working in conjunction with national e-commerce projects, GoDigital will offer a combination of advice, training and financial aid to help close the apparent gap between large corporations and smaller enterprises.

In a recent report to the European parliament on the need to help smaller businesses trade online, the Commission said: ‘Even in the most advanced member states, only a minority can handle transactions electronically. Against a background of the explosive growth of e-business worldwide, especially in the US, these figures are alarming signs that European SMEs are not yet fully committed to the internet.’

As part of GoDigital, the Commission will run a series of exchange programmes, forums and other events to bring together businesses, technology experts, venture capitalists and the public sector.

It hopes to set up trials and demonstrations, allowing users in the industrial and service sectors to test the latest e-business technology products as they come onto the market.

Through the European Investment Fund, it will guarantee loans totalling e1.4bn (£880m) to help small and medium-sized companies invest in hardware, software and training connected with web-based commerce.

GoDigital also plans to address the lack of a level regulatory playing field — identified as one of the main barriers to e-business transactions between companies in different EU states.

The Commission said smaller businesses are often wary of becoming involved in the mass of different regulations in place under different jurisdictions.

‘Unlike larger companies with their teams of lawyers and consultants, they tend to avoid the legal risks of engaging in cross-border commerce,’ said the EC’s report. Readily available basic legal information is therefore of crucial importance for SMEs which need simplicity and predictability.’

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