Eurochambres president Christoph Leitl is keen to focus on providing a favourable environment for SMEs in a post-Covid Europe. (Photo by Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images)

Founded in 1958, Eurochambres is responsible for representing more than 20 million businesses in Europe through regional, national and transnational chambers of commerce and industry.

“Eurochambres was established only one year after the establishment of the European Economic Community, which was the predecessor of EU,” says Eurochambres president Christoph Leitl. “Our role is to influence policy developments for the benefit of chambers, which are based across Europe and not only in EU, and identify joint activities across them. We collaborate with the European Commission, the European Parliament and other European institutions in order to help local businesses to outperform the global competition and strengthen Europe’s role as a global player.”

Eurochambres’ role has also been vital in helping various chambers and businesses across Europe to prepare for Brexit and adapt to changes in bilateral agreements and investment relations.

Both the EU and UK could damage the other by not trading with each other, so I think there should now be less emotion and more reason in this bilateral behaviour.

“The UK is leaving the common European house but is not leaving the European family,” says Leitl. “We, as economic representatives, are dedicated to pragmatic behaviour and therefore we now have to overcome some burdens and obstacles in the bilateral trade and investment relations. I think now, step by step, we have to secure a close bilateral relationship and minimise any potential obstacles that could arise in this relationship.”

Eurochambres has welcomed the Brexit trade deal agreed in the final few days of 2020, expressing relief on behalf of the European business community that a “destructive no-deal scenario” was avoided.

“Some 45% of UK’s total exports are into the EU Single Market, so the UK really needs the access to this,” says Leitl. “As for the EU, 5% of its total exports are to the UK. Both sides could damage the other by not trading with each other, so I think there should now be less emotion and more reason in this bilateral behaviour, as this is key for strengthening entrepreneurism and building the right environment for small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] to succeed.”

All eyes on the SMEs

Eurochambres has 45 members and consists of a network of 1,700 regional and local chambers of commerce. About 93% of these organisations are SMEs, which explains why the Brussels-based organisation aims to “achieve a more SME-friendly regulatory and policy environment by working towards the enhancement of the Small Business Act for Europe”, according to its website.

Leitl states that SMEs need to focus on five key trends in order to thrive in a post-Covid and post-Brexit environment. These trends include digitalising their value chain, accelerating digital transformation, securing access to finance, cutting down on bureaucracy and fostering innovation.

Green Deal drives innovation

When it comes to innovation, Leitl suggests that the European Commission’s Green Deal could strengthen Europe’s position in regards to global competition.

Europe has to step up in terms of sustainable policies, as China and the US – under Joe Biden’s presidency – have been very active in backing green initiatives.

The Green Deal is a plan that aims to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050. It consists of a set of initiatives that seek to restore biodiversity, reduce pollution and create a circular economy.

“Europe has to step up in terms of sustainable policies, as China and the US – under Joe Biden’s presidency – have been very active in backing green initiatives,” says Leitl. “Implementing the Green Deal could provide an opportunity for Europe to boost its economic growth and promote sustainable development.”

Eurochambres is a supporter of Europe’s Green Deal and has recently published a paper with key recommendations to successfully implement its plans. Some of those recommendations include enforcing existing legislation to make sure that the new legislation is coherent and proportionate, intensifying action at global level, strengthening the global competitiveness of industries, balancing regulation and economic incentives, and integrating a push for renewable energies and infrastructure planning.

Other recommendations focus on creating an enabling framework for sustainable finance, exploiting the potential of digitalisation to promote the green transition, incentivising markets for innovative technologies, enabling a just transition that leaves no region behind, and enhancing public participation in the above where appropriate and necessary.

Quality over quantity

Leitl is keen to highlight, however, that the focus in Europe should not only be on the Green Deal, but that there should be a shift towards putting sustainability at the forefront of any initiatives.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that the spotlight should be on sustainability and that quality goes before quantity,” he says. “This is essential for responsible investors who have a long-term strategy and do not gravitate towards solutions that could perform well in the short term but prove to be unsustainable at the end.”

Sustainability, Brexit and creating a prosperous environment for SMEs are all pressing priorities for Eurochambres. However, the organisation is also focused upon promoting entrepreneurial education in a bid to boost Europe’s human capital and reduce the skills gap, as well as providing support to companies based in EU candidate countries, such as Serbia and Albania. This is a lot of ground to cover, but it also demonstrates how important a role Eurochambres plays in ensuring that Europe retains its global leadership status in business and much else.