• English

Geneva, 31 March 2004
Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Executive Secretary

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe I would like to welcome you all to this Forum. The issues to be discussed include small and medium-sized enterprise policies, and best practice in the development of entrepreneurship and SMEs in two countries: Romania and Slovakia.

The two represent growing economies with some differences in their stage of transformation to a market economy and EU accession. Slovakia will accede to the EU on 1 May 2004, Romania is likely to accede three years later. Both of them have a long way to go to catch up with the existing EU Member States. Both of them have to further strengthen their structural reforms, including the role of the SME sector in their economies.

Nevertheless, the development of entrepreneurship and SMEs is moving in the right direction in both countries. We will have an opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences of government policies and compare the diversified SME-support infrastructure in these countries.

I would like to remind you of the five other successful Forums, already held on this topic, which have led to today’s event. They were organized on the Czech and the Hungarian Experiences in 1999 and 2000, followed by Poland and Belarus in 2001, and Croatia and Slovenia in 2003. It only proves that more and more countries are becoming interested and eager to promote and develop their small and medium-sized enterprises.

For a successful transformation from command to market economy, the development of the private sector, entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises is a key factor. SMEs are considered to be one of the principal driving forces in economic development for the following reasons:

  • SMEs stimulate private ownership and entrepreneurial skills;

  • They are flexible and can adapt quickly to changing market demand and supply situations;

  • They generate employment; and

  • SMEs help diversify economic activity and make a significant contribution to exports and trade.

Many of the former transition economies have recently entered a new post-transition stage of their development. This is true for the EU acceding countries. In this stage they face new challenges: how to catch up with the existing EU Member States in terms of GDP per capita, how to increase their competitiveness in order to respond to globalization challenges, how to transform to a knowledge-based economy. In order to meet the Lisbon targets they will have to considerably increase their employment ratio.

It is increasingly recognized that in all these areas success cannot be achieved if the new EU members do not promote the SME sector in order to bring it up to date. Adequate government policy should be focused on developing a business friendly environment, but at the same time targeted policies are needed, like (1) improving access of the SME sector to financing (risk capital, microlending, instruments for financing innovation), and (2) promoting good governance including social and environmental responsibility.

One of the biggest assets of transition and post-transition economies is skilled labour and expanding entrepreneurial spirit. New entrepreneurs have emerged rapidly but in order to have sustainable success this requires, among other things, education and training for entrepreneurship, good behaviour, and stronger representation of the SMEs interests. In other words, it needs increased efforts on the side of both entrepreneurs and governments.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Forums on SME represent a fraction of the UNECE activities from which the SME sector in the UNECE region could benefit. Let me remind you that tomorrow we shall open a two-day Expert Meeting on Good Governance for SMEs, which will be a unique opportunity to discuss issues like business ethics, corporate social responsibility, models of governance in decision making, and exchange of experiences on government policies in supporting SMEs in advanced market economies, in EU associated countries and other countries with economies in transition. I would like to invite you to participate in this meeting.

I would also like to inform you that UNECE’s role in promoting SME development includes different initiatives in e-business for SMEs (like UN e-Doc), information dissemination through Multiplier Points or the Trade Directory which offers information for investments, enterprises, governmental organizations, chambers of commerce, business associations, etc., on issues like trade, trade facilitation, enterprise financing, and so on, and also promotion of women’s entrepreneurship.

May I conclude with a quotation from the EU communication with the very appropriate name of “Thinking small in an enlarging Europe”: “Europe must listen better to small business”.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Governments of Romania and Slovakia for convening this Forum, and wish you a very fruitful discussion.

Thank you for your attention.