The EU and Business in the UK
The European Union provides a range of supports for businesses in the United Kingdom, including grants and financing for various enterprises. Supports are available to businesses of all sizes, including micro businesses with less than 10 employees and an annual turnover or annual balance sheet total of under €2 million. Most supports are available to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), which are defined by the EU as businesses with less than 50 employees for a small business or 250 employees for medium-sized business. The EU also defines SMEs in terms of finances, with small businesses having a turnover or balance sheet total of less than €10 million and medium-sized businesses with a turnover of under €50 million or a balance sheet total of less than €43 million.
EU funding programmes for businesses in the UK include direct funding grants from the European Commission or executive agencies. Funding is available to co-finance projects with specific EU policy objectives, including those related to the environment, competitiveness, regional development, research and development, and training. In order to apply for direct grants, businesses must respond to calls for proposals issued by the European Commission at various times during the year. Eligibility requirements vary depending on individual grants and are typically open to all EU-based businesses. Calls for proposals are available online from the European Commission at http://ec.europa.eu/contracts_grants/grants_en.htm.
The EU provides financing for UK businesses through indirect funding rather than direct loans or equity. Financial intermediaries are used to provide EU guaranteed financing, including loans and equity. Financing may be used as seed money, to start up or expand a business, or for other tangible and intangible investments. Individual lenders establish eligibility criteria and determine how funds are borrowed.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) provides loans and guarantees of up to €7.5 million for research, development and innovation to mainly medium-sized businesses. EIB loans are also accessible directly through Santander Corporate Banking and the Royal Bank of Scotland in the UK. Information about financing through the EIB is available at www.eib.org.
Direct EU funding for SMEs is also available through the European Investment Fund (EIF). Part of the EIB Group, the EIF specialises in risk finance for SMEs. The Fund is available for business angels, venture capital and private equity funds, corporate investors, banks, guarantee institutions, microfinance providers, SMEs, job seekers and journalists. A list of all institutions that provide EIF funding within the UK may be found at http://europa.eu/youreurope/business/funding-grants/access-to-finance/.
Indirect support is also provided through the EU's Structural Funds, which are flowed to national, local or regional authorities. Structural Funds operated by the EU include the Regional Economic Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF). Managing authorities in the UK for the EU's Structural Funds include the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Greater London Authority, the Scottish Government, and the Welsh European Funding Office of the Welsh Assembly Government. Information about individual funding programmes through national, regional or local authorities is available directly from administering agencies, which establish eligibility and application requirements. Contact information may be found by visiting http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/manage/authority/authority_en.cfm.
Enterprise Europe Network
The Enterprise Europe Network is a business support and innovation network offering a range of services for SMEs in the UK and across the EU. The network provides information about EU programmes and policies. Advisors also offer advice and information on public procurement, financing, business cooperation, innovation, market research, EU regulations and legislation, and technology transfer. Assistance is also delivered to businesses interested in applying for European Commission grants and projects. Enterprise Europe Network offices are located in communities across the UK, including London, Manchester, Belfast, Cardiff, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham, Glasgow, Swansea and Middlesbrough. Additional information about the Enterprise Europe Network and contact information for local advisors may be found at http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise-europe-network.