Martin Horwood MP writes: Liberal Democrats must be the voice of small business in Europe

It’s common knowledge that small businesses are the dynamic engines behind economic recoveries – light-footed, innovative and quick to seize the opportunities of growth.  I met just such a business in my own Cheltenham constituency recently, exporting highly specialised cleaning products to the world. Today in Brussels the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) launches its manifesto for the European elections and it is full of great ideas for making the European Union more competitive, accountable and efficient – all priorities for Liberal Democrat Members of the next European Parliament.

Our MEPs and ministers have already achieved some notable victories for small businesses by cutting red tape and increasing access to vital funding.  Ed Davey and Sharon Bowles MEP spearheaded the campaign which secured an exemption for 1.5 million British businesses from complicated accounting rules, sparing our smallest firms administrative costs totalling up to £390 million a year.  Meanwhile, George Lyon MEP was instrumental in the ear-marking of £2 billion worth of EU-wide research and development funding specifically for small businesses.

But there’s still a lot to do to make the EU single market work better for our smallest firms.  We need to fully implement the ‘think small first’ principle in all EU legislation so that when rules are drafted, amended and voted on, the needs of small businesses are in the forefront of everybody’s minds.  In certain cases, small businesses should be exempted from EU rules altogether and EU impact assessments need to be improved so that they accurately measure the potential negative impact of legislation on small businesses and, if found wanting, act as a hand brake on the proposals.

That Cheltenham cleaning company – Premiere Products – should have been looking forward to the EU’s new biocide regulations, intended to give smaller businesses easier and cheaper access to the European market.  Instead, they are having to launch a campaign to get these rules changed to take account of small businesses. This should have been detected by the European Commission’s impact assessment from the outset and the problems resolved earlier.

As we approach May’s European elections Liberal Democrats must be the true voice for small businesses in Europe. A staggering nine in ten small UK exporters trade within Europe. Only the Liberal Democrats want Britain to stay in the European Union to protect these local businesses and the jobs they support. UKIP and the Conservatives are risking the livelihoods of small businesses across the UK by undermining our membership. Labour can’t be trusted with the economy at home or abroad and their MEPs are busy trying to impose burdensome legislation on small firms such as abolishing the opt-out to the Working Time Directive.

Liberal Democrats will go into the European elections determined to defend millions of British jobs and create millions more – with small business front and centre . We are the party of IN because we know that being IN Europe means being IN work.

* Martin Horwood is Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for the South West of England & Gibraltar. He is a member of the European Parliament’s Iran delegation. He is Borough & parish councillor for Leckhampton, Gloucestershire.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.
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