EXCLUSIVE: EU Commission pledges to 'think small first' with environmental legislation

The European Commission has admitted that it needs to do more to bring small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) 'to the centre' of its plans for a transition to a circular economy.

European Green Week takes place from 3-5 June in Brussels

European Green Week takes place from 3-5 June in Brussels

Speaking to edie.net at European Green Week in Brussels yesterday (4 June), the Commission's directorate-general for enterprise and Industry, Lisbeth Bahl-Poulsen, said better collaboration with national and regional governments from the EU's member states is also needed to focus environmental efforts on SMEs.

"The European institutions want to make life easier for SMEs," said Bahl-Poulsen. "When it comes to the transition to a green economy, there needs to be an added focus on that.

"We always try to take account of the views of SMEs, but I admit it's not always easy and more could be done. It is a big challenge sometimes - some of the issues we deal with have a very wide impact on the environment and on climate change, but when you go further down the business sector, there may be particular and more specific obstacles that SMEs will face. So a balance has to be struck between the 'overall good 'and the impact at the lower level.

"If I had to take back with me one lesson from this event, then it is that in order to achieve a transition to a completely circular economy, we need to have SMEs at the centre of the exercise."

Bahl-Poulsen's comments came in response to an argument raised by Rosa Solanes, advisor for sustainable development at the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME),at European Green Week. 

Thinking small

During a session aptly titled 'The entrepreneurial opportunities of the circular economy', Solanes - whose organisation represents more than 12 million enterprises across Europe - said current environmental legislation is a 'real burden' for smaller firms that want to exploit opportunities to become more resource efficient, and that EU institutions must 'think small first'. 

"The bulk of SMEs are not in the circular economy; they remain linear in their processes," said Solanes. "We want to ask the European institutions and member states to 'think small first'. SMEs account for 99% of new companies so we would like the legislators to design according to the 'think small first' principle.

"SMEs have to be the centre of legislation, not the exception. Today is an example -  SMEs are not present, they are busy running their businesses. So it should start with the law - the  EU institutions seem to recognise the role of SMEs but they don’t reflect this on paper. 

"The Environmental Action Programme didn't reflect the needs of SMEs. This is the main programme on environmental policy until 2020 - we wanted to hear a comprehensive framework of measures for SMEs, but this didn't happen."

Bahl-Poulsen did point to a number of 'concerted efforts' the European Commission has made to bring SMEs to the forefront of environmental policy - namely the Green Action Plan for SMEs and the introduction of the 'Small Business Test' for all new legislative proposals.

At last year's Green Week conference, the European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik said that it was essential to focus much of the European Commission's attention on SMEs because 'they are the drivers of our development'.

Luke Nicholls
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