The challenges and opportunities of digitalisation for small and medium-sized enterprises in lagging and remote areas was at the heart of a conference by the European Committee of the Regions' (CoR) commission for Economic Policy (ECON) in Bucharest on 22 June. On the invitation of Robert Sorin Negoiţă (RO/PES), Mayor of Bucharest District 3, and in presence of the Romanian Minister Ștefan-Radu Oprea, the participants discussed the role of local and regional authorities, available EU instruments and synergies for cooperation via interregional programmes.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the European economy creating stable, local employment. While Europe is a global leader in many manufacturing industries and its companies are at the forefront of technology and automation in key sectors, a large majority of SMEs and midcaps are seriously lagging behind, especially in remote or economically less developed areas.
"Shortage of IT skills or staff, high investment and operating costs as well as weak internet connection speeds are among the most faced obstacles to digitalisation of SMEs. Additionally, the lack of awareness and insufficient financial as well as operational support hinders SMEs to move towards digital technologies", said Robert Sorin Negoiţă (RO/PES) (RO/EPP), Mayor of Bucharest District 3, President of the Association of Municipalities of Romania and Head of the Romanian delegation in the CoR.
Public policy has a key role to play in creating the right framework conditions for SMEs to enter the digital age. This requires a coordinated approach across different tiers of government to tackle the problems SMEs face and to ensure their future competitiveness.
"Local and regional authorities are strong partners within territorial eco-systems, which play a crucial role in helping SMEs to digitalise by their activities in areas such as research and innovation, education and skills, infrastructure and public investment. European support through the COSME programme and interregional-cooperation programmes such as Interreg is also essential for encouraging much-needed collaboration between regional clusters. We must work together across all levels in order to ensure that our SMEs, particularly those in lagging regions, are successful in tacking the business challenges associated with digitalisation, which is so essential for their competitiveness and sustainability", said Michel Delebarre (FR/PES), chair of the ECON commission.
The CoR members will be back to Bucharest in mid-March 2019 for the EU summit of regions and cities. This will give local and regional leaders the opportunity to voice their perspectives and visions for the future of Europe just before the UK's withdrawal from the EU on 29 March and the European elections between 23 and 26 May.
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