23 Jan 2020   |   News

SME Instrument gets stamp of approval from EU auditor

European Court of Auditors says the funding scheme for small and medium sized companies is “effective” but makes several recommendations ahead of its morphing into the European Innovation Council in 2021

The SME instrument is to be transferred in 2021 to the European Innovation Council

SME Instrument, the European Union’s main funding scheme for innovative small and medium sized companies has received the European Court of Auditors’ stamp of approval ahead its morphing into the European Innovation Council under Horizon Europe.

A report by the EU auditor published today says the instrument “provides effective support in developing innovation projects.”

The European Commission launched the SME Instrument in 2014 as part of Horizon 2020, the EU’s flagship research programme, to support innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups and help them bring research results to the market. Since then, more than 5,000 projects have received funding from a total purse of €3 billion. 

The report also puts forward a list of recommendations ahead of the launch of Horizon Europe, the EU’s next research and innovation programme.

The auditors say the instrument has fulfilled its mission so far but give recommendations for further improvements the European Commission could make, as the funding scheme is to be transferred in 2021 to the European Innovation Council, a dedicated body set to help researchers move scientific results to the market.

This is one of Horizon Europe’s most waited-for features, and the pilot project for the Innovation Council was essentially a beefed-up version of the SME Instrument.

“Our recommendations are aimed at ensuring that the European Innovation Council can build on the success of the current instrument,” said Alex Brenninkmeijer, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report.

When it designed the SME Instrument, the commission wanted to also help funded SMEs to find additional loan funding from other EU-backed financial instruments.

But SMEs are still largely unaware of these instruments and, according to the audit report, “the commission has taken little action to create such links and has only limited insight into the actual financial needs of SMEs.”

The auditors say the commission should communicate more effectively about the funding scheme and continue work on setting up synergies with other financial instruments.

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