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The green and digital transformation at the heart of SME strategies

The three-day SME 2021 Assembly, the most significant event for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the EU, is coming to an end. The three-day programme, full of panel discussions, workshops and specialised courses, took place from 15 to 17 November in Portorož, Slovenia, as part of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Speech of Minister Zdravko Počivalšek at the SME assembly.

Speech of Minister Zdravko Počivalšek at the SME assembly. | Author European Commission.

The unofficial part of the Assembly began on Monday, 15 November 2021 with a virtual presentation of the Digital Centre of Slovenia and some of the best and most innovative projects that can be found in the Slovenian business sector. The participants of the SME Assembly learnt how Slovenian companies are tackling the digital transition in order to ensure further sustainable and green development.

The afternoon part consisted of a lecture given by professor and climatologist Lučka Kajfež Bogataj. She spoke about the effects of climate change on SMEs, focused on the role of SMEs and businesses in achieving the transition to a sustainable economy, and explained how businesses could prepare and adapt to deal with climate change.

The day ended with an evening reception at which the Slovenian Presidency presented some of Slovenia’s traditional crafts, arts and cuisine. Jernej Salecl, Director of the Internationalisation, Entrepreneurship and Technology Directorate at the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology, greeted the guests on behalf of the Slovenian Presidency and spoke about the need to place the green and digital transformation at the heart of all strategies for SMEs.

The official opening of the SME Assembly took place on Tuesday, 16 November 201 with introductory speeches by Thierry Breton competent for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW), Zdravko Počivalšek, Slovenian Minister of Economic Development and Technology, and Christoph Leitl, President of Eurochambres.

In his opening address, Minister Počivalšek commended the Green Deal, which will enable countries to transform their economies and lead them to climate neutrality by 2050. The Commissioner spoke about our collective responsibility to ensure that SMEs embark on the road to recovery as quickly as possible, and the President of Eurochambres pointed out that SMEs were not only the backbone of the European economy, but also the backbone of our society.

The official opening was followed by a series of parallel panel discussions and workshops. The discussions focused on topics ranging from the impact of the SME Conference on shaping entrepreneurial culture, new opportunities for family-run tourism, the role of SMEs in area-based and place-based industrial policies, support for SMEs, to the mission to restore our oceans and waters by 2030. Success stories were also presented, featuring entrepreneurs who were successful during the COVID-19 pandemic and are preparing for a sustainable and digital recovery. In addition, there was a policy hackathon on ensuring the EU's strategic independence in MedTech and a debate on the importance of intellectual property for SMEs and new ways of working. One discussion focused on empowering girls and women through entrepreneurial and digital competences. The debate centred on the importance of entrepreneurship for women and girls and the skills they need to develop through the education system, including digital skills.

On the evening of the second day, the European Enterprise Promotion Awards and European Small and Mid-Cap Awards were presented. The Slovenian company Iskraemeco won in the category Supporting the Sustainable Transition with its project "The Green Penguin", and the Slovenian Centre for Creativity was also among the finalists.

The last day of the conference was devoted to discussing recovery and resilience plans that will mitigate the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic and make Europe’s economy and society more sustainable and resilient to challenges. At the end of the assembly, the Slovenian SME Envoy, Jernej Salecl, formally handed over the organisation of the SME 2022 conference to his Czech SME counterpart Marian Piecha.