(Geneva, 19 March 2003)
Opening Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
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 enterprises policies and Best Practice in the development of Entrepreneurship and SMEs in two countries: Croatia and Slovenia.
Entrepreneurial roots are common to both countries, being successor states of the former Yugoslavia. However, after the disintegration of the latter, Croatia and Slovenia at the beginning followed different paths to political and economic transition. At the moment Slovenia is one of the most advanced candidates for accession to European Union with the highest GDP amongst the newcomers, while Croatia has a longer way to go along the road to transition in order to have a fully-fledged market economy.
Nevertheless, the development of entrepreneurship and SMEs is going in the right direction in both countries. We will have an opportunity to learn about the differences and similarities of government policies and compare the diversified SME-support infrastructure in these countries.
I would like to remind you of the four other Forums, on the Czech and the Hungarian Experiences in 1999 and in 2000, followed by Poland and Belarus in 2001, respectively. In spite of the fact that the transition process in Belarus still faces difficulties, the Forum gave a good impetus for continuation of transition to the market economy not only in this successor State of the former Soviet Union, but also in all CIS countries. Consequently, it was these four successful forums that led to the organization of today's event. It only proves that more and more countries are becoming interested and eager to promote and develop the small and medium-sized enterprises in their country. Yesterday I had an opportunity to meet with the Romanian Minister for SMEs and I was delighted to learn that the Minister would like to organize a Forum on Romanian SMEs in her country. The countries that have been presented in these Forums have made remarkable progress towards catching up to the world market and are currently named as the "Emerging Market Economies".
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.
Having identified the capabilities of SMEs in stimulating economic growth, I think that the next emphasis should be focused on the creation of a business friendly environment including good governance, in which the transformation of society towards market economy is more likely.
Another important issue is to disseminate good practices, and especially to help those countries which lag behind and are as yet non-accession countries. Special emphasis should be put on accelerating the development of the entrepreneurship and SME-sector in South-eastern Europe. The activities carried out within the framework of the Central European Initiative based on the MOU signed between the Secretariat of the CEI and UNECE is a good way to cooperate.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I express my appreciation to the Governments of Croatia and Slovenia for convening this Forum, and wish you a very fruitful discussion. I fully hope that the new Slovenian Government will continue its efforts in preparing for accession to the European Union.
I also welcome the desire expressed by Croatia to join the EU, and its willingness to work in this direction.
Thank you for your attention.