Given, in some countries, difficulties faced by SMEs to their participation in European projects, the question whether European mechanisms are adapted or not to SMEs is more and more frequent.
One answer consists of saying that FP regulations are too complicated or that EC procedures are too lengthy and bureaucratic. Besides, SMEs often had bad experiences from previous projects given EC requirements. On SMEs’ activities’ side, it is often said that companies are too active in areas, which are not covered by FP projects or that companies do not have the capacity to prepare project proposals.
Another type of answer can be given, based on companies’ competitiveness and on a better understanding of FP projects’ objectives.
The mechanisms offered by the European Union are focused on innovation and the European ability to compete worldwide. They rely on three statements:
1. SMEs’ future does no lie on production costs (with regard to Asia) but on differentiation in products and services,
2. Competitive innovation is always based on specific and diversified skills,
3. Competitive technologies – in terms of differentiation, not in terms of price – are expensive and R&D and acquisition costs must be shared.
To this respect, SMEs’ positioning is complex. However, a few remarks can give keys to successful participations of SMEs.
Firstly, even though SMEs can legally participate in projects, they should be aware that they increase they success rate when they join existing partnerships led by big research centres and Universities. Therefore, collective regrouping, clusters and networking between these research organisations and SMEs and crucial.
Secondly and in this perspective, some regional or national procedures aiming at enhancing cooperation between SMEs, research organisations should be put in place. Those procedures should also foresee specific subsidies for research laboratories according to the quantity of contracts they have with SMEs instead of charging major projects not involving SMEs.
Thirdly, some skills must be developed within SMEs: English language to start, but also collective management skills or project management.