Policymakers hope Europe's current energy concerns can be turned into an opportunity and help hasten the green transition.
The energy shock, inflation crisis, and the stuttering post-pandemic recovery all hung over this year’s SME Assembly in Prague, Europe’s top event for small and medium-sized enterprises.
The main focus was, unsurprisingly, how firms survive the current economic headwinds. A priority for the European Commission is to rein in the cripplingly high gas prices for companies. Brussels also wants to beef up the rules so small businesses get paid faster.
“SMEs are suffering from the very high energy prices, they are suffering from inflation. That means we have to make sure that they get paid in time", said Hubert Gambs, Deputy Director-General DG GROW of the European Commission.
"That’s why the Commission started the initiative on revising the late payment directive. For the energy prices, we need a solution at the European level. We need a mechanism that helps the energy prices consistently go down all over Europe.”
For now, EU governments remain at loggerheads over how to bring energy prices down.
The Czech Republic, which holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, is trying to broker a deal. The country’s trade minister has called for unity ahead of an extraordinary Energy Council set for mid-December.
“We have to deliver once more again because Mr Putin is basically sitting in the Kremlin and waiting when we fall", Jozef Síkela, Czech minister of industry and trade explained.
"Please allow me to quote Winston Churchill, that 'united we stand and divided we fall' and this is extremely important to keep in mind for the forthcoming extraordinary council when we will discuss the next package of the measures”, he added.
Of course, the big hope among policymakers is that Europe’s current energy difficulties can be turned into an opportunity and help hasten the green transition.
To achieve that, innovative small firms like Devinn will be crucial. The Czech-based company has developed a mobile hydrogen generator, a zero-emission alternative to the standard models.
“Currently if you want a mobile source of energy which is off-grid, independent of the electrical grid, you need to use diesel or other fossil fuels", Tomáš Schwarz, Head of Marketing at Devinn told Euronews.
"Now you can use hydrogen and have the production of electricity emission-free without any CO2 emissions. The only emission is water.”
The EU’s pandemic recovery fund requires member states to spend 37 percent of the money they receive on the green transition, a key goal that’s been given greater urgency by the war in Ukraine.
In addition to discussing the main challenges facing firms right now, the annual SME Assembly also rewards organisations promoting entrepreneurial talent.
This year’s Grand Jury EEPA prize went to a Belgium initiative called Love to be Free which connects and represents freelancers.