In May 2016, Ukraine officially launched the European COSME programme, which provides support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Ukrainian businesspeople already benefit from some supports, but officials with the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade believe COSME is a unique opportunity for Ukrainian business to access assistance.
The COSME (Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) progamme will be operational from 2014 to 2020 and has a total budget of €2.3 billion. It was developed as a grant programme to provide direct financing to small and medium-sized businesses. The EU has provided €1 million to sponsor Ukraine’s participation in COSME.
COSME facilitates businesses’ access to foreign markets. Ukrainian businesspeople will receive professional advice and analytics, support for export-import activities, and help with the expansion of trade and economic relations. The educational component of the program includes information exchange and sharing experience, including the “Erasmus for Entrepreneurs” program, various industry conferences, training, seminars, exchange programs, and internships.
Dmytro Nosov, the non-staff advisor to the Ukrainian Minister of Economic Development and Trade, considers Ukraine’s participation in COSME to be an important component of the state policy of business support.
In 2016, Ukrainian SMEs can benefit from 25 sub-programmes within COSME classified according to three objectives: facilitation to enter external markets, improvement of competitiveness, and improvement of business culture. Among the sub-programmes, there are such important initiatives as Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs, European Strategic Cluster Partnerships, European Destinations of Excellence, etc.
The programme’s financial tool is not yet available to Ukrainian enterprises. Nosov says using the financial tool is a rather complicated process and Ukraine must first develop its system of support to small and medium-sized businesses and build on related expertise. However, similar financial tools are available within other international programmes, such as EU4Business and HORIZON-2020.
The non-availability of COSME financial tools disappoints the president of the Ukrainian Association of Private Employers, Oleksandr Chumak. However, he can cite many examples of cases when entrepreneurs “self-organised and solved their issues independently” thanks to information and technical support. “We really need consulting products to promptly get information on opportunities for entering European markets,” Chumak says. The European Commission calls on Ukraine to ratify the signed agreement on joining COSME as soon as possible and to create a special COSME contact point to help communicate information about conferences, the Enterprise Europe Network and its research, and to encourage Ukrainian SMEs to participate in the programme. Nosov says another important task for the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade within implementation of the programme is to make sure entrepreneurs are aware of COSME opportunities. A relevant page is already available on the Ministry’s website with plans to expand it into a full-fledged web-portal with more information. The Ministry provides advice to SMEs on participation in tenders and preparation of applications for COSME projects, “but the majority of the work will be performed by the organisations that submit the project proposals,” Nosov says. The Business Support Centres, which are currently being established in 15 Ukrainian regions under the EU4 Business initiative, will also provide services and advice.
The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), is now being expanded in Ukraine as a result of COSME. EEN is an online support platform for SMEs designed to boost international cooperation and innovation, as well to enhance technology transfer from research institutions to businesses. EEN-Ukraine will help SMEs find new clients, suppliers, partners, investors, producers or distributors, and provide advice on participation in the EU financial programmes, including info days and training sessions, international fairs, and exhibitions.
Olena Fesenko, an EEN coordinator, says that EEN-Ukraine has already held a number of events, training sessions, and international conferences. Ukrainian participants in the consortium uploaded several files on the EEN network, some of which became success stories. For instance, Ukrainian and Greek businesses started cooperating on producing croissants.
Nosov believes the proactive participation of Ukrainian applicants in COSME projects will guarantee successful use of the programme opportunities. The expert points out that it is a large-scale and long-term programme, and the benefits will not be apparent right away. “A decision on participation in a COSME project may be made a year or more after the application has been submitted,” says Nosov.
He also emphasises that Ukraine has not yet ratified its agreement to participate in COSME. Nosov expects that the Parliament will ratify the agreement in early September. “That does not mean the programme is unavailable till then,” he says. “Preparation of project proposals takes time, so interested organisations should start preparing now. Businesses can currently submit applications as the agreement has been signed.”
In late spring 2016, the government of Ukraine and the European Union signed the agreement on Ukraine’s accession to the EU-funded programme, “Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises” (COSME, 2014-2020). Upon its ratification, Ukrainian business associations, clusters, governmental authorities, and companies will be able to participate in the majority of COSME projects. This will help Ukrainian and European businesses take advantage of the EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, promote Ukraine’s economic potential, and expand European best practices of support to SMEs.
Currents calls within COSME – https://ec.europa.eu/easme/en/cosme
COSME programmes and events are available on the European Commission website –http://ec.europa.eu/DocsRoom/documents/15130
Enterprise Europe Network-Ukraine – http://www.iop.kiev.ua/~een/index-ua.html