Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Written evidence from Mr Rob van der Horst


  I work for an organisation called EIM that carries out economic research about the business sector, and entrepreneurship and SMEs in particular. EIM was founded about 75 years ago as a joint initiative of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and business associations. Our work is providing input for policymakers at national and supranational level, based on independent applied research.

  One of the major research projects we are carrying out is called Observatory of European SMEs, a project for the Enterprise Directorate General of the European Commission, which is also the Directorate General that produced the Green paper on Entrepreneurship. In the framework of this project since 1993 an annual report is produced providing quantitative and qualitative information about SMEs in European countries. Through our network of national member institutes we also collect information about national policy measures implemented to enhance the development of SMEs and stimulate entrepreneurship. So, that is very much linked to the set of—very interesting and relevant—question you have sent me last week.

  Nevertheless, I have to confess that it has not been so easy to prepare answers to your questions. The major reason is that very few proper evaluations of policies have been carried out. Another reason is that in the EU there are a few thousand national policy measures in the area of entrepreneurship and/or SMEs.

Question 1—Looking at the national policy of individual EU member states to promote entrepreneurship what in your view has been the most successful national policy as a whole and why? What lessons could be drawn for thinking about future EU policy and policy in the UK?

  In order to answer this question we should look at the major bottlenecks for entrepreneurship. I think those are:

    (1)  culture;

    (2)  the fear to fail and the stigma of failure;

    (3)  finance;

    (4)  lack of management skills.

  But even if we would agree on these bottlenecks, we have to agree on: what a "successful" enterprise policy means:

    —  A large amount of additional starters?

    —  Improving the survival rates of starters?

    —  Bringing down the number of business failures?

    —  Creating additional jobs?

    —  Realising higher profits?

    —  etc, etc.

  Let me focus on enterprise policies that aim to stimulate more people to start a business. Then I personally would consider policies successful that:

    (1)  have managed to change the culture; and

    (2)  have managed to co-ordinate and simplify enterprise policy instruments.

  I will try to explain myself.

  So first, changing the culture. Changing the culture of a society in which it is accepted and encouraged to start your own business and where successful entrepreneurship is considered a valuable contribution to welfare and well-being. A society in which failure is not a stigma any longer. In most European countries it is still a big problem to get a bank loan after a failure or bankruptcy. In the US failure is sometimes even considered "a useful experience".

  Changing the culture is of course a long-term objective, but it can have a major impact. Of course the government cannot do it on its own. There should be a breeding place for such a change, and other stakeholders should support the attempts of the government. What could a government do? Let me give you just a few examples of actions taken in different countries, also in the UK, that I would consider at least worth considering:

    —  launching a public campaign: start your own business;

    —  training teachers at primary and secondary schools in entrepreneurship (the Household Survey in your country has for instance found that those previously exposed to entrepreneurship through education are more likely to seriously consider starting a business);

    —  introducing entrepreneurship in the curriculum of primary and secondary schools;

    —  training people who are in regular contact with business people, to make them better understand the needs of small businesses;

    —  appointing former business people in government departments that develop policy measures, tax schemes, etc;

    —  appointing a former businessman or woman as Minister of Industry;

    —  launching awards for the most successful starter in different fields (students, women, ethnic minorities, etc);

    —  appointing former business people as directors of small business agencies, innovation; and

    —  adjusting taxation and other laws to make it easier to start a business and to facilitate a re-start after a failure.

  My second point in this respect is about policies that have managed to simplify and co-ordinate enterprise policy instruments. Let me again try to explain myself. In the late eighties and the nineties there were quite some countries where an awful lot of policy instruments to stimulate entrepreneurship and—especially— to support SMEs had been implemented. A policy was introduced for almost each need and bottleneck identified. In the end the poor entrepreneur could no longer manage to keep in mind the wealth of subsidies, support organisations, etc. A whole army of civil servants was needed to manage the programmes and many consultants had to assist the enterprises to make use of the support programmes. The situation had also unintended effects. As some policies were restricted to enterprises of a certain size, eg 10 employees, entrepreneurs were sometimes reluctant to grow, or set up a second business in order not to loose the benefits of the policies.

  Apart from that, evaluations sometimes revealed that objectives were not met at all. For instance financial policy schemes that were supposed to stimulate enterprises to innovate or to start exporting, just improved the financial situation of the businesses; they would have innovated or started exporting anyway.

  What has proven to be a success is first of all co-ordinating all policies relevant to the business sector between all ministries. Another success has been: abandoning the overwhelming amount of instruments, keeping a few clear and successful schemes that do not discriminate by size, and at the same time: focusing on a general enterprise policy rather than an SME policy. A general enterprise policy is a policy that aims to create and maintain a healthy business environment for all enterprises. When developing new laws and regulations the government should take into account the specific characteristics and circumstances of small businesses, rather than develop specific policies to overcome the negative effects of these laws and regulations. That means that some kind of watch-dog unit in one of the ministries should have the role to introduce this way of thinking in all ministries dealing with laws and regulations that may effect business. That means for instance:

    —  simple requirements and formalities to start a business;

    —  reduction of administrative burden;

    —  simplification of the tax regime;

    —  creating a transparent labour market; and

    —  setting up effective and efficient information services at regional or local level; etc.

Question 2—Looking at the national policy of individual EU member states to promote entrepreneurship, which provide the best practice in terms of the evaluation of individual schemes?

  I rather would talk about good instead of best practices, for two reasons:

    —  in order to identify the best, one should have a complete overview of all policies that have been implemented and evaluated, and I'm afraid no one has;

    —  national policies have been developed for the situation in a specific country. Bottlenecks, hindrances and circumstances in countries differ, so one cannot simply copy a policy from one country to another.

  Let me give you one example of policies that seem to be a good practice. May be I am a bit biased, but it is the Dutch system of carrying out SME and enterprise research. Already for more than 70 years the Ministry of Economic Affairs wants to base its SME and enterprise policy on proper applied policy research. To that end a research programme is carried out providing the policymakers with information about structure and development of enterprises in different sectors, and of different size classes. Also fundamental research is carried out—in co-operation with universities—to improve the knowledge about entrepreneurship development.

  The outcome of the research is not only used by government officials, but also by the social partners in their process of negotiating labour conditions. Consultants, advisors, are other users of the information, as well as individual entrepreneurs and of course students. The website that presents all the research findings (, then click SMEs and Entrepreneurship) had more than one million hits last year, although not only from The Netherlands, as much information is now available in English.

  This research programme with an annual budget of four million euro is carried out by EIM. In the past the budget was even much higher, but part of the research projects are now commissioned by the Ministry based on public procurement procedures. This research programme, co-ordinated by Sander Wennekers (see Literature overview in the annex) has served as an example for many countries. Presidents, ministers and other officials from all over the world have visited our office to get acquainted with this programme. My colleagues and I have worked in many countries—amongst which are almost all Candidate Countries—to set up similar programmes, although always much smaller than the Dutch one. Currently we are doing so in South Africa and Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates.

  So, the advantages of the research programme are among others the following:

    —  policymakers are provided with an ongoing stream of independent information to do their work;

    —  there is no discussion amongst social partners and the government about the facts and figures: EIM is considered as a reliable, independent organisation; and

    —  the programme is well co-ordinated, so overlap by different governmental departments is avoided.

  Of course enterprise and SME research is also conducted in other countries, but almost never in such a structured and co-ordinated way. I have for instance attended several annual small business research conferences in your country. I have always been impressed by the wealth and quality of research carried out in the UK, which has a number of famous researchers in this field. The research is however carried out in many different university institutes in a non-co-ordinated way, as far as I know. So, there is not an ongoing stream of information to the policymakers.

Question 3—Do you think that the way in which policies at the EU level to promote entrepreneurship are evaluated is satisfactory?

  I am afraid not many evaluations have been carried out. To be honest, it is not easy to do so, because for a sound evaluation, clear quantitative, measurable targets have to be set in advance. And most policies at EU level are rather vague, like:

    —  promoting entrepreneurship;

    —  identifying good practices; and

    —  exchanging information and experiences.

  I am not blaming the EU for this; I think it is the consequence of the fact that Member States do not want the EC to implement concrete policies at EU level. Either because they do not want the EU to take over the responsibilities from them or because it is more effective to implement the policy at national, regional or local level.

  For example, the European Investment Bank gives medium and long-term loans to financial institutions that lend on to SMEs. In 2000, this lending amounted to 5.7 billion euro and helped about 27,000 SMEs. The amount of money spent every year is precisely measured, by country, sector, etc. But the impact the loans may have had on the enterprises' performance, competitiveness, survival rates, production growth, or ability to create jobs, is not absolutely clear.

  Another example is the EICs, the Euro Info Centres. There are hundreds of EICs, all over Europe, including the Candidate Countries. The number of clients asking for information is measured. In my opinion that's only an indication of the awareness amongst SMEs of their existence and one may have asked the clients whether they were happy with the information they received. But what has been the impact of the information on the enterprises in terms of competitiveness, employment growth or whatsoever, in relation to the costs of the EICs, is not measured.

  It is fair to say that improvements have been made over the years. More and more EU policies are and will be evaluated. In this respect I think we should welcome the initiatives of the Commission to strengthen the evaluation of Commission activities as set out by DG Budget.

Question 4A—On the basis of your experience and evaluation evidence, which schemes across the national states of the EU, could you identify as best practice in terms of (i) enhancing human capital aspects of entrepreneurship; (ii) enhancing access to risk capital and equity for entrepreneurship; and (iii) enhancing the commercialisation of science and technology through entrepreneurship?

Human capital

  In Germany sophisticated systems of vocational training and entrepreneurship training exist for businessmen and workers in the craft sectors. The systems are based on a combination of learning and working during a long period.

  In several countries entrepreneurship has been introduced in higher education, not only for students in economics but also—and this is very important—in technical studies. Students are stimulated to set up their own business, either "on paper" or in reality. One of their teachers, preferably with a theoretical and practical business background is appointed as mentor. At the same time an experienced entrepreneur would act as coach.

  With respect to "Access to risk capital and equity" and "the commercialisation of science and technology" I would like to concentrate on high-tech firms.

  High-tech firms are very important for an economy. Last year we did a Europe-wide study about high-tech SMEs. Depending on the definition applied, their share in production and employment is not remarkably high, about 4 per cent and 9 per cent respectively, and only a very small fraction of high-tech firms are rapid growers. However, on average they still out perform traditional companies with respect to output and job growth. Their lead is more pronounced for output than for employment, as they are achieving significant productivity gains, especially in manufacturing. For this reason it is high-tech services, which can be regarded as job engines. Nevertheless, in a competitive world economy, labour productivity growth is also essential to secure jobs in the long run.

  So, the overall direct impact of high-tech firms on the entire economy, eg concerning employment, is limited. However, the importance of new technologies and highly innovative businesses go far beyond their direct contribution to value added and employment, due to significant spill-over effects to the rest of the economy. So, as there are significant social returns as well as dysfunctions or absence of market co-ordination, public intervention is not only justified but even called for. Based on evaluations, the following examples of national measures are seen to address successfully the difficulties faced by high-tech enterprises.

  In Germany the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology runs a programme called PRO-INNO, together with the Working Group of Industrial Research Associations. This is done by supporting the transfer of knowledge between firms and research institutions via co-operation projects. The support consists of grants to the firms and the research institutions. More than 80 per cent of the enterprises participating have fewer than 50 employees. The programme covers both manufacturing and the service industry. Each year approximately 2,000 projects are operating, employing 6,000 R&D experts. The programme has quickly developed into an important and strong instrument for the support of innovation. The programme successfully addresses a major problem in SME-science relationships, namely the missing capabilities and resources of SMEs to engage in joint projects with research institutions.

  The reasons for the success of the programme include the following aspects:

    —  the strategic set-up of the project is defined by businesses;

    —  in co-operation projects with research institutions, SMEs are strongly involved in product development: R&D is not merely contracted out to the research organisation;

    —  attention is paid to the market relevance of the project;

    —  often co-operation between SMEs takes place in a vertical manner, ie supplier-customer relationships are established;

    —  the projects are of interdisciplinary nature and designed across technology fields, ie they take into account the requirement of businesses rather than focusing on specific categories of technology.

  Credit-based financing generally does not appear adequate in the case of high-tech and innovative enterprises. Risk is too high for banks and bank staff are not in a position to assess seriously the innovative investment project and its risks. Equity financing, and in particular venture capital and business angels, appears to be more appropriate. The UK is, together with Sweden and The Netherlands, clearly above the European average with respect to the importance of private equity investments. Venture capitalists are often rather reluctant to provide finance in the early stage of a high-tech company. For that reason, business angels are a good alternative. In some countries—such as Finland, they provide five times as much capital to start-up high-tech enterprises as the venture capital industry.

  A successful programme running in Austria is called i2, the Business Angels Network. It is run by the Innovation Agency an institution of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and the social partners. The aim of i2 is to close the equity gap for rapidly growing companies—from all sectors and life cycle phases—with smart money. The Network matches promising ideas of innovative entrepreneurs with private investors, who, not only provide their own capital, but also their know-how and contacts. Investors may be individuals, incubators, investment houses or larger enterprises. Entrepreneurs as well as investors, have to pay a fee for the matching service. A large part of the matching service is nevertheless covered by public funds (national and European) and sponsors.

  About 400 innovative projects have been handled so far. The most important success factors of the programme include:

    —  the speed of establishing contacts (two weeks after submitting the business plan);

    —  the discretion throughout the whole process;

    —  the profession supervision of the negotiation procedure through mediation by the Agency.

  In The Netherlands, the Ministry of Economic Affairs has set up an Agency called Syntens. Its aim is to foster innovation, especially in SMEs, across all sectors. Syntens has set up a regional network of about 25 offices. In the past these regional offices were stand-alone, thus creating an additional place for entrepreneurs to find their way. Nowadays the regional offices are more and more located in existing regional focal points for entrepreneurs, like chambers of commerce. There are 25 regional chambers of commerce and industry in The Netherlands, and for many years we have a system of mandatory membership for all enterprises, so the office of the chamber is for many entrepreneurs a well-known place to go.

  The first phase of the programme was not that successful, due among other things to the already mentioned problems entrepreneurs had to find their way to the new offices, but also as a result of the background of the managers and consultants employed in the centres. Many had been recruited from a previous governmental institution for applied technology, and they were seen by the entrepreneurs as civil servants: they didn't speak the language of the businessmen and were often not able to understand the practical problems businesses faced in trying to develop and implement innovations. In a later stage the Agency started to recruit people who had been in business and this was a major improvement.

Question 4B—On the basis of your experience, and any evaluations of which you are aware, which schemes operating at the EU level could you identify as best practice in terms of (i) enhancing human capital aspects of entrepreneurship; (ii) enhancing access to risk capital and equity for entrepreneurship; and (iii) enhancing the commercialisation of science and technology through entrepreneurship?

  I am not able to give an answer on this question, as I am not aware of many evaluations being carried out.

Question 5—Are there any lessons, which emerge from past EU evaluations, which would help (i) to design future EU policy; (ii) to judge which types of policy have been least successful in the past; and (iii) to identify policy failures and avoid similar failures in the future?

  If you allow me I would like to make a few remarks about policy making in general and enterprise policy making in particular.

  The first remark is about the legitimacy of public support. Sometimes one gets the impression that policy makers (both at national and European level) implement support measures just because entrepreneurs have expressed a need for them. From an economic point of view this is not logical. Needs are endless; everybody has many needs that are not fulfilled. This by itself is not enough justification for putting in public resources. Needs analyses are useful, but not enough.

  In my opinion, public support should be based on an analysis of identified market failures. So, I very much welcome the call of the European Council in Barcelona to target state aid to identified market failures, as well as the initiative of the Enterprise DG to launch a project Market Failure Rationales for the Provision of Business Support Services. My hope would be that both the EU and the Member States would base their enterprise policies on proper analyses of market failures. Conducting these analyses is often complex, but that should provide a nice challenge for policy makers and researchers. Such analyses would result in a more efficient allocation of scarce resources (tax payers' money) and in fewer discussions with the private sector about false competition in providing services to enterprises.

  My second remark is about the content of support policies. Much attention, at EU and Member States level, is paid to stimulating the start-up and growth of innovative firms in all sectors, with a special focus on high-tech and exporting firms. A wealth of policy instruments is available for these kinds of businesses, ranging from information, advice, stimulating R&D and introducing new technologies, to providing venture capital. For an area that wants to make itself the world's most competitive economy by 2010, this is an impressive set of policies and in several cases market failures have been identified. So, I would be the last one to criticise them.

  The only observation I would like to make in this respect is, that we have to take into account the reality of small business. What are we talking about? Let me give you some recent data. There are 20 million enterprises in the EU; 99.8 per cent of them are SMEs, so have fewer than 250 employees. The average firm size of these SMEs is four workers. The micro firms, employing fewer than 10 people represent 93 per cent of all private enterprises. Please be aware that this vast majority of 93 per cent of all European firms have an average firm size of two persons, which means on average the entrepreneur and just one employee or an unpaid family worker. Should we encourage them to export, to become a high-tech firm, to use venture capital and should be develop costly policy programmes to make them aware of these challenges? I do not think so. In the frame of the Observatory project we have done a survey amongst nearly 8,000 SMEs in 19 countries and including all sectors. It has revealed that the main focus of micro businesses is growth, the struggle to survive, and consolidation. Quality improvement and innovation rank much lower. Major business constraints are: lack of skilled labour, access to finance and administrative regulations. Yet these 93 per cent of all firms have to pay their role in making the EU the world's most competitive economy. They have to deliver products and services to other firms, they distribute goods and services to consumers, they are active in all sectors; they are part of the value chain. Other, often larger firms, rely on them. This means that these micro firms need to be innovative, although at their own level, have to look for niche markets and have to improve the quality of their products and services: and some of them are indeed extremely innovative and fast growing, but not all, most are not. What micro enterprises most need is a transparent labour market, well-educated and trained workers; they need fewer and simpler regulations that do not change too often, and they need a simple bank guarantee to start their business or to buy a new machine. So my message is: let us not forget this "average" micro entrepreneur with his or her one and only employee when developing enterprise or SME policy and implementing support services.

  My third and last remark in this respect is about the effectiveness of public support. As said before, in many countries and at EU level proper evaluations of policies are scarce. Monitoring has become quite popular these days. It can be a useful tool for policymakers, but it is not identical to evaluation. One of the differences is that evaluation seeks to compare performance of recipients with other groups of enterprises. Unfortunately, most policy initiatives in OECD countries currently are merely monitored, rather than evaluated. As said before, I think we should welcome in this respect the initiatives of the Commission to strengthen the evaluation of Commission activities as set out by DG Budget. I would like to refer to an article by Professor David Storey from the SME Centre at Warwick University. He argues: "If public money is spent on SME support, then it is vital that evaluation of the impact of these initiatives takes place. Unfortunately, evaluation is not possible unless objectives that are clear and, in principle measurable are specified. Too often objectives are either not specified or specified in a way that is overly vague and incapable of being used as the basis for deciding whether or not the policies are successful. In my judgement these objectives should be quantified and become explicit targets." If new enterprise policies are to be implemented, a budget should be set aside to ensure that an independent evaluation plan is established. This can be combined with the obligation to terminate the policy scheme automatically after a fixed period, or to improve it. I think policy makers owe this to their taxpayers and to the SME target group. People often argue that evaluation studies are costly. This is true. This holds for any policy research. It is however my conviction that from a macro economic point of view it is much more expensive to refrain from doing policy research.

Question 6—Do you think that EU and national policies are sufficiently well co-ordinated? Can you give any examples of lack of co-ordination, which have caused problems and should be avoided in the future?

  Co-ordination of policies between EU and Member States is a burdensome activity. On the one hand national governments do not want the EU to interfere too much in their policy making process. On the other hand: as soon as EU policies have been implemented, Member States want to get a reasonable share of the budgets available for "their" businesses ("juste retour").

  In June 2000 the European Council endorsed the European Charter for Small Enterprises. Member States have committed themselves to implement a large number of action points, eg in the field of better legislation, cheaper and faster business start-ups, taxation and financial matters. On a regular basis Implementation Reports are produced by the European Commission, assessing the progress made with the implementation of the Charter. In 2002 Member States have even accepted to set quantitative targets in enterprise policy. In my opinion, this has been one of the most successful policy initiatives. Enterprise policies have thus become much more transparent. So, everybody can follow the progress made (or the lack of progress).

Question 7—What are the main policy gaps to be filled at EU level and what is the evidence for the gaps?

  1.  According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) business dynamics in Europe are much lower than in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. This is a major concern, as it seems to be a structural back-log. Much attention of policymakers over many years is necessary.

  2.  Literature and benchmark studies reveal that this is at least partly caused by much higher "opportunity costs" of entrepreneurship in Europe. When someone in Europe changes from employee to self-employed, he or she gives up a lot of job security and social security entitlements.

  3.  Recent analyses of the GEM data for 37 countries reveal that a higher share of "social security expenditures" leads to lower business dynamics. Several other authors have indicated weaknesses in the "incentive structures" for entrepreneurship in Europe, eg high taxation of entrepreneurial income and insufficient incentives for wealth accumulation.

Question 8—What would be your main concerns about the successful design and implementation of future EU policies in this area?

  I would like to refer to the remarks made under Question 5:

    —  legitimacy of public support should be demonstrated by identifying market failures;

    —  micro enterprises (the 93 per cent) should not be forgotten in developing support policies; and

    —  policy effectiveness should be assessed through proper evaluations, based on measurable targets set by the policymakers.


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18 May 2003

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