Regional chambers of commerce create a strong united front to represent the activities of their members. Imagine then, an organisation that has the combined weight of 1,700 regional chambers from across the breadth of Europe.
The organisation is EUROCHAMBRES, also known as the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and the statistics behind it are quite staggering. Established in 1958, it represents 20 million businesses, which in turn employ over 120 million people.
Interestingly, 93% of businesses within the organisation are small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and it is these companies, says Mr. Arnaldo Abruzzini with complete conviction, that are “the backbone of the European economy.”
Chief Executive Officer of EUROCHAMBRES, Mr. Abruzzini, sees one of his most important roles as being to convince European Institutions and policymakers to embrace the “Think Small First” principle.
“The importance of the SME cannot be overemphasised,” he states. “The majority of EU citizens work for them, almost all European output is made by them, and a large percentage of EU export is fully supported by them.”
Backed by such heavyweight statistics, one would expect the collective views and suggestions of SMEs to play a significant role during the consultation process of new EU laws and directives. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
One of Mr. Abruzzini’s chief concerns is this lack of proportional representation, which still appears to favour multinationals rather than companies who employ less than 250 people. “This is why the ‘Think Small First’ initiative is so important,” reaffirms Abruzzini. “It will help the SME component of our business community to raise their voice, and to raise their concerns.”
Due to the laborious nature of EU legislative machinery, EUROCHAMBRES’ battle on behalf of SMEs may still take some time. Surprisingly though, this hasn’t stopped business owners throughout Europe from expressing positive comments for the future.
“In a survey published just recently,” explains Mr. Abruzzini “we questioned more than 50,000 entrepreneurs from all around Europe, and the result was very clear. Expectations from entrepreneurs are positive, and continue to increase in terms of output and delivery,” he reveals.
This optimism has a base in a number of contributory factors, but the prime movers appear to be the ability to harness new technology, and the capacity of European businesses to access foreign markets.
“Europe has one thing, which is unmatched in the world,” proclaims the CEO proudly, “and this is our R&D capacity. Scientists in institutions around Europe are continually working on bright ideas and inventions, which can be transferred into products and services for the marketplace.”
This phenomenon, however, doesn’t occur naturally. New technology is at the heart of most successful businesses, and the need to identify and cultivate people who understand this is of prime importance.
Believing that entrepreneurship and new technology go hand in hand in the 21st century, EUROCHAMBRES is confident that an off-shoot of the hugely successful Erasmus scheme can further nurture this.
Established in 1987, Erasmus is the student exchange programme active within European Union Member States. The spin-off initiative that EUROCHAMBRES is so excited about is, in fact, Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs (EYE).
This program is one that typifies the whole ethos of the European community. Set-up as a cross-border exchange, it gives new entrepreneurs the opportunity to gain invaluable experience from successful entrepreneurs already operating their own SME.
According to the EYE Support Office, the scheme provides a win-win situation that sees budding talent hosted for up to six months by an experienced entrepreneur. This process, says EYE, “helps the new entrepreneur acquire the skills needed to run a small firm, and the host benefits from a fresh perspective on their existing business.”
“Erasmus is a European success story, certainly,” confirms Mr. Abruzzini. “It enhances the opportunity for those would-be entrepreneurs, to have the experience, with successful entrepreneurs in other European countries. But now, Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs is going global.”
The idea is so attractive, he explains enthusiastically, that they are proposing to the European institutions to use the EYE brand to create links with other regions in the world.
To ensure that Europe has a plentiful supply of competent young entrepreneurs to participate in the scheme, EUROCHAMBRES has also secured funding to the tune of 200 million euro. This funding comes under the umbrella of the SME Initiative, where funds are available for entrepreneurs whose use of new technologies has the potential to impact the market. While EUROCHAMBRES believes that the funding is impressive, they feel that the financial framework for the scheme needs be expanded in order to make a solid impact.
Encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs to embrace new technology is one thing, but CEO of EUROCHAMBRES, Italian born Mr. Abruzzini’s remit also covers the current European hot topic of immigration.
While protecting the jobs and market share of his membership, there are gaps in the European demographic, which he believes, means that immigration is essential. “We have to import a certain number of people every single year, in order to satisfy the need for workers that we can’t find domestically,” he states.
To allay societal fears caused by a steep increase in immigrants and refugees, Mr. Abruzzini believes there is a need to implement a policy, which sees the EU working with the countries concerned to improve the standard of living for people in their own country, as well as increased integration for those who stay in Europe.
“For those that come to Europe in search of work,” he concludes, “we need to provide a real integrated policy for those entering the European labor market. It is this lack of integration,” he maintains, “that creates unrest in society.”