EU schemes supporting innovation in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are to be audited by the European Court of Auditors.
The audit will explore whether the European Commission has adequately addressed the challenges faced by SMEs working to meet their potential for innovation, focusing particularly on the EU’s “SME Instrument”, which was first launched in 2014 and now operates as part of the pilot European Innovation Council project. The instrument, operating with a total budget of €3 billion over the period spanning 2014 to 2020, aims to enhance the capacity for innovation of SMEs and startups by stimulating private sector investment in research and development; thereby assisting small businesses to bring new and innovative concepts and products to market. It can also mobilise additional, non-financial support for SME operators, including business coaching and networking opportunities.
Alex Brenninkmeijer, the member of the European Court of Auditors overseeing the audit, said: “With its instrument, the EU wanted to bridge the innovation gap from lab to market many SMEs face. Our audit will assess how well thought out and managed this instrument has been.”
SMEs and startups in the EU face a unique set of difficulties in mobilising and capitalising on innovation, particularly in the field of scientific research. Projects can be particularly challenging to fund for smaller enterprises working on a budget, which means that even projects with commercial potential may not be realised due to a lack of public or private investment. The audit will examine the operation of the SME Instrument with two primary goals: firstly, to determine whether the instrument has been properly designed and implemented to optimise its intended results; and secondly, to analyse whether the Commission has deployed the most effective policy action to meet the specific needs of SMEs and startups with regard to innovation.
The final report on the audit should be published by the end of 2019.