Sociological survey on “Bulgarian SMEs and Their Participation in the Utilization of the EU Structural Funds”

The survey results show that over the next three years, 35.4% of respondents would strongly seek support from their Structural Funds investment  projects. To realize its investment projects, companies will seek financial support from the Structural Funds for technological renovation of production (49.4%) meeting the standards / requirements of EU(36.9%), innovation projects for the development of new products / technologies / services (20.4%), introduction of energy saving technologies (19.3%) and modernization of company management (14.0%).

According to the survey, an average of about 27% of SMEs are not familiar with CE marking requirements, environmental protection, quality management, internal organization of production, conditions and safety at work. Every second company is not aware of the deadlines for introducing the individual requirements. Only between 10% and 23% of the surveyed companies fully meet European requirements. Although they do not meet EU requirements, about 70% of SMEs are optimistic and believe that they will resist the competitive pressure from the common European market.

However, SMEs intend to meet the requirements because 50% of those who intend to invest in the next 3 years will finance the introduction of these standards and 36.9% of them would apply for Structural Funds to cover these investments. In terms of innovation, the overall results of the survey are relatively low – 15.6% of the surveyed companies would apply for Priority 1 activities (6.4% for start-ups, 4.4% for R & D projects, 4.8% for pro-innovative infrastructure). take into account the fact that, that the innovation activity of the enterprises is expressed mainly in the introduction of new products for themselves or for the Bulgarian market and to a much lesser extent in the development and implementation of international innovations.

This implies the development of relatively broad and comprehensive support for SMEs in Bulgaria with the aim both of strengthening and growth of existing innovative enterprises and of creating more new ones. The problem of access to finance is key to the capacity of SMEs to absorb structural funds. Access to external financing is a critical condition for the absorption of Structural Funds and programs, because it depends on the capacity of most SMEs to provide co-financing. From the access to external financing depends on the scale of innovation and growth of the company, which also determine the chances of participating in the grant schemes.

Approximately 44% of respondents had access to credit over the past three years. About 37% of survey participants have been using commercial credit for the past three years. Small and medium-sized businesses still do not rely sufficiently on the financial intermediation sector but mainly use their own funds. This is even more valid with regard to new and start-up  companies.

Among the main obstacles that respondents point to their access to bank loans are high interest rates (54.3% of respondents), “hidden” credit costs (19%), and excessive collateral requirements (40%). , European Business Financing Programs are considered as a separate case of non-bank financing, companies are provided at a cost, significantly lower than the credit resource.

Undoubtedly, these funds are appealing to SMEs – an indicator of this is the high estimate that the respondents give for the utility of priority 3 of the OP for the development of their activity – 40.9%. Nearly 60% of the business plans of the companies have a horizon of one year, and only 17% have a horizon of over 4 years, with only 2% having a horizon of 6 to 10 years that covers the horizon of the OP – a serious structural obstacle to synchronization of their business processes with the work of the Operational Programs and the Structural FundsThe EU .

The data show that there is a correlation between whether companies plan their business development and develop written business plans on the one hand and the attitude and willingness of SMEs to apply for support through the OP Competitiveness on the other. have benefited from financial support for most activities under this Operational Program, develop written business development plans for different deadlines – the respective shares vary between 59 and 75%. and participation in competitions for European funds and programs.

Only 1.4% of the surveyed companies reported having received financial support under the program PHARE , 1.6% of companies have received funding from the program SAPARD; 0.7% received financial support  from ISPA . 89.5% of the companies surveyed have never applied for financial support from European and international funds and programs. There are several reasons for this, of which the more important can be summarized as follows: Insufficient inter-company participation capacity; complex and bureaucratic procedures (29.1%), lack of sufficient information on European programs (28.4%) and the necessary co-financing of projects (30.2%).

SMEs are poorly informed about the possibilities of working with the EU Structural Funds- 45% of respondents said they were less aware of the opportunities for working with the Structural Funds, and 40.9% of them were not aware of these opportunities at all. The conclusions are two-way. On the one hand, SMEs are not active in the search for information, and take a wait-or-see position to look after the post-accession situation.

The business complains about the lack of sufficient and clear information, but the businessmen themselves say they are not looking for information or activity. On the other hand, the information campaigns on the possibilities for applying for SFs are still in the preliminary stage and do not provide enough specific information. The documents themselves are not in full readiness when details on eligibility and eligibility conditions can be shared.

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