2014 Volume 5 Issue 4, December
p-ISSN 2083-1277, e-ISSN 2353-1827
Spoz, A. (2014). Significance of the EU Funds in Investments of Small and Medium-Sized
Enterprises. Oeconomia Copernicana, 5(4), pp. 61-74, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.
John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland
Significance of the EU Funds in Investments of Small
and Medium-Sized Enterprises
JEL classification: D24; D29
Keywords: Small and medium-sized enterprises; investments; EU funds
Abstract: Nowadays competitiveness of enterprises is determined by the size and
range of implemented investment projects. The investments need to involve
necessary resources. In the case of the SME sector, enterprises have limited
financial assets. Therefore, Poland’s accession to the European Union and the
opportunity to use its funding is a chance for development of this sector. The aim of
the paper is to discuss the significance of EU funds in investments of SMEs and to
present the most important advantages and barriers to their spending.
The research methods used in this paper are: study of literature and analysis of
secondary data. The research material comprises programming documents and the
results of research carried out at the request of the European Leasing Fund, the
Polish Agency for Enterprise Development and the Polish Confederation Lewiatan.
Conclusions: EU funding is an attractive source of financing investments for
enterprises. It is one of the most affordable forms of obtaining capital. Acquisition
of additional financial means can determine the start of an investment, extend its
© Copyright Institute of Economic Research & Polish Economic Society Branch in
Date of submission: March 23, 2014; date of acceptance: June 7, 2014
Contact: email@example.com, Department of Financial Markets and Institutions, John Paul II
Catholic University of Lublin, al. Racławickie 14, 20-950 Lublin, Poland
62 Anna Spoz
scope, increase its rate and improve its quality. However, in practice the share of
EU funds in financing SMEs investments is still small and entrepreneurs face many
barriers to using this form of support. Major obstacles include: excessive
bureaucracy, strict procedures, over-scrupulous office workers, lengthy verification
of payment applications, as well as delays in payments to beneficiaries.
Nowadays, innovations are indispensable and established elements in the
process of building the market position of an enterprise. Their significance
for shaping the competitive potential of a company was emphasized already
by such classics of management as P.F. Drucker and M. Porter (Drucker,
1992; Porter, 2006). Originally, innovations were perceived as implementa-
tion of new ideas in practice (Schumpeter, 1960, p. 104). These days, for
contemporary enterprises innovation means primarily: introduction of new
products, implementation of new techniques and technologies, development
of information networks, changes in production and distribution infrastruc-
ture, as well as actions aimed at better use of expertise and skills of em-
ployees (Sosnowska et al., 2005).
Owing to the significance of innovations for the functioning and devel-
opment of enterprises, innovation strategies have become a key element of
long-term strategies in contemporary companies. The most frequently used
innovation strategies in SMEs include strategies of new products and new
Innovations need investment because without investment it would not
be possible to reinforce and/or increase the innovative potential of
Investment is expenditure on various undertakings whose goal is to
achieve the planned effects. In the case of enterprises, such effects may
include: increased profitability of the enterprise, maintaining or solidifying
the market position, extending the scope of services rendered, moderniza-
tion of machinery etc. (Skowronek-Mielczarek & Leszczyński, 2008, p.
Thus, the following aspects of investment can be distinguished: tangible
(buildings, machines, and equipment), financial (acquisition of securities or
stocks of other enterprises) and intangible (training of employees, promo-
tions) (Michalak, 2007, p. 21).
Investment is a difficult process for an enterprise because it has to in-
volve various kinds of resources. For investors it means, on the one hand,
the need to give up current consumption in favour of desirable and ex-
pected, but uncertain effects. On the other hand, involvement of own funds
Significance of the EU Funds in Investments of Small… 63
makes them freeze, while using the services of external entities (such as
financial institutions) generates additional costs.
In the case of the SME sector, investments involve higher risks resulting
from limited resources, especially financial. Moreover, these enterprises
face significant problems with obtaining financial means from external
sources, especially in the initial phase of their functioning on the market.
Without doubt, Poland’ membership of the European Union and the op-
portunities to benefit from various forms of financial support offered by the
Community are a great chance for these enterprises.
The aim of this paper is to analyse the significance of EU funds in in-
vestments of small and medium-sized enterprises. Detailed objectives are
− identification of the types of EU financial support aimed at SMEs,
− analysis of EU funds significance in financing of SMEs investments,
− discussion of the most important advantages and barriers connected with
using EU assistance funds.
The research material comprises programming documents and the
results of research carried out at the request of the European Leasing Fund,
the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development and Polish Confederation
The research method used when writing this paper was a study of literature,
which included Polish publications in the discussed field, especially pro-
gramming documents, articles, monographs and economic reports.
The European Union is aware of the economic significance of the SME
sector, which covers as many as 99% of enterprises operating on the com-
munity market and which employs about 75 million people. Therefore, this
group of enterprises has a special position in the entrepreneurship policy
pursued by the EU.
The main objectives of the EU entrepreneurship policy are: promotion
of entrepreneurship, creating an environment which supports changes and
innovations, and providing enterprises with access to markets (cf. Kaliszuk
& Tarnawa, 2004). These objectives are consistent with the provisions of
64 Anna Spoz
the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which emphasize not only the economic
significance of small and medium-sized enterprises, but also the role of the
EU government in supporting operation and development of these compa-
nies (The Maastricht Treaty 1992, Art. 130).
A crucial moment in development of the EU innovation policy was the
meeting of the Council of the European Union in Lisbon, during which the
main goal of the European Union was adopted and defined as development
of the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world. This aim was
supposed to have been achieved by 2010. The key factor in its accom-
plishment was implementation of the principles specified in the European
Charter for Small Enterprises (Wyciślok, 2012, p. 4).
Today it is already evident that this goal has not been reached. The Lis-
bon strategy is continued by the Europe 2020 document (2010) defining
tasks of the Community for the years to come. The objectives adopted in
this document include: raising the level of employment among people in
the economically productive age, increasing expenditure on R&D up to 3%
of GDP and building knowledge-based economy (Stanisławski, 2011, p.
Pursuing of the innovation policy is costly. Expenditure on this policy
accounts for ca. 16.5% of the EU budget for the years 2007–2013 and is
made through various programmes (Anvert et al., 2010).
For the development of the regions in which income per inhabitant does
not exceed 75% of the EU average, the European Union allocated means
from the following four structural funds: the European Regional Develop-
ment Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Agri-
culture Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF) and the Financial Instru-
ment for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG). For economies of the countries where
GDP per capita does not exceed 90% of the EU average, the Cohesion
Fund was established whose goal is to support initiatives which enhance
competitiveness of these states. Furthermore, the so-called Community
Initiatives operate throughout the European Union. These are the tools of
the complementary character, supporting actions undertaken within the
framework of the structural funds.
Poland’s accession to the European Union gave our country a great
chance for progress. Due to its development level, Poland is fully eligible
to obtain all types of assistance offered by the EU. However, in order to
enable Polish beneficiaries to receive support, the government prepared the
National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), which sets the priorities,
scope and the implementation system of the ERDF, the EFS and the Cohe-
sion Fund (CF) within the Community budget for 2007–2013. The strategic
objective of the NSRF is “[…] to create conditions for better competitive-
Significance of the EU Funds in Investments of Small… 65
ness of knowledge-based economy and entrepreneurship, resulting in in-
creased employment and higher level of social, economic and spatial cohe-
sion […]” (the Ministry of the Regional Development 2007, p. 40). The
objectives of the NSRF are implemented through six operational pro-
grammes supervised by the Ministry of Regional Development and sixteen
regional operational programmes managed by local governments of par-
− Infrastructure and Environment Programme – ERDF and CF (absorbing
42.2% of total funds)
− Innovative Economy Programme – ERDF (absorbing 12.9% of total
− Human Capital Programme – ESF (absorbing 14.9% of total funds)
− Development of Eastern Poland Programme – ERDF (absorbing 3.6%
of total funds)
− Technical Assistance Programme – ERDF (absorbing 0.8% of total
− European Territorial Cooperation Programme – ERDF (absorbing 0.73
% of total funds)
− Sixteen regional programmes – ERDF (absorbing 25.7% of total funds)
Owing to its economic significance, the SME sector is an important
group of beneficiaries. EU funds are currently available to those enterprises
under the Human Capital Operational Programme, the Innovative Economy
Operational Programme, the Development of Eastern Poland Operational
Programme and the Regional Operational Programmes for 2007–2013.
The Human Capital Operational Programme is an answer to the chal-
lenges provided to the EU states by the amended Lisbon Strategy. These
tasks include: enhancing the attractiveness of EU member states as places
of locating investments and taking up employment, increasing the number
of permanent jobs, development of innovations and knowledge.
The main goal of the Human Capital Operational Programme is boost-
ing employment and social cohesion. Hence, the actions undertaken within
the framework of this Programme aim at: raising the level of employment,
creating better and permanent jobs, improving adaptation abilities of enter-
prises and their employees, boosting the level of employees’ education,
increasing the share of innovative products of the Polish economy on inter-
national markets, and stimulating social and territorial cohesion (the Minis-
try of Regional Development 2008a). The objectives of the programme are
fulfilled through soft projects, i.e. training courses, seminars, development
programmes and consultancy.
The Innovative Economy Operational Programme is an EU programme
financed from the ERDF. Its main goal is economic development of the
66 Anna Spoz
country based on innovativeness of enterprises. Detailed objectives leading
to accomplishment of the major goal are: improvement of innovativeness of
enterprises, enhancement of competitiveness of Polish science, strengthen-
ing of the role of science in economic development (the Ministry of Re-
gional Development 2008b).
This Programme is primarily directed at entrepreneurs. It offers finan-
cial support to these projects which directly or indirectly facilitate estab-
lishment and development of innovative enterprises and, consequently,
reinforce competitive advantage of the Polish economy on the international
markets. Small and medium-sized enterprises can count on support for fi-
nancing innovative undertakings, also those involving high-risk capital.
Additionally, SMEs from the Lublin Province, Podkarpacie Province,
Podlasie Province, Świętokrzyskie Province and Warmia-Masuria Province
can apply for funds from the Development of Eastern Poland Operational
Programme. The objective of the Programme is to increase the rate of so-
cial and economic growth in this region, in accordance with the sustainable
development principles. Funding can be requested by these enterprises
which plan to expand the scope of their operation and to modernize their
technical facilities and/or products on offer. The Programme is implement-
ed in six axes. The initiatives under Priority Axis I: Modern Economy and
Priority Axis II: Infrastructure of the Information Society are directed spe-
cifically at small and medium-sized enterprises (the Ministry of Regional
Development 2008c, p. 2).
The Programmes discussed so far have a supraregional character. How-
ever, we should also bear in mind the financial assistance obtained by
SMEs from regional operational programmes conducted in particular Prov-
inces of Poland. The projects carried out within these programmes have
a similar character to the undertakings which were financed from the Sec-
toral Operational Programme “Increase of Economic Competitiveness” in
2004–2006. Unfortunately, due to the limited length of this paper, particu-
lar initiatives implemented within these programmes will not be discussed.
The author wishes to draw attention to this issue and to emphasize the sig-
nificance of these forms of support for SMEs.
According to data of the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development, en-
terprises from the SME sector have received the funding of 8 billion PLN
from the Human Capital and Innovative Economy Operational Programmes
since the beginning of their operation, with 90% of this sum from the Inno-
vative Economy Programme.
Significance of the EU Funds in Investments of Small… 67
Investment process is, on the one hand, an indispensable condition for effi-
cient functioning of an enterprise on the market, but on the other hand
– a tremendous financial and organizational challenge. Business entities
wishing to make investments need to save necessary financial resources or
to find them in other ways. Involvement of own funds makes them freeze.
Obtaining money from external financial and/or credit institutions incurs
additional expenses connected with credit management. The EU funds pro-
vide enterprises with an opportunity to receive affordable financial means
for their projects.
Small and medium-sized enterprises appreciate the importance of in-
vestments which have become established elements of their strategies.
Even the current economic downturn has not stopped this trend, but only
weakened it. Since the scope and rate of investment is determined by the
resources allocated to this purpose, the question worth considering is: what
are the sources of financing investments in small and medium-sized enter-
In the research1 conducted on 9-23 August 2011 by TNS Pentor at the
request of the European Leasing Fund, 92% of the surveyed entrepreneurs
from the SME sector replied that they financed investments from their own
funds. The second most frequently selected source was a bank loan, even
though only 46% of the examined companies mentioned this method. Only
10% of small and medium-sized enterprises declared that they used EU
funding. The smallest number of entrepreneurs financed their investments
with loans from other companies and with factoring.
The results of the research are consistent with the data gathered by the
Polish Agency for Enterprise Development in 2010, according to which
60% of SMEs financed their investments from their own funds, 56.5% took
out a loan and 32.7% used a lease. Moreover, 30.3% of small and medium-
sized companies borrowed money from other economic entities, 13.6%
used EU funds, and 10.5% benefitted from other forms of support (the Eu-
ropean Programme for Modernization of Polish Enterprises 2011, p. 18).
The development level and operational efficiency of companies from
the SME sector differ depending on the region of their functioning, similar-
ly to the level of EU funds received by these enterprises.
The research covered 600 SMEs selected by the random-quota sampling
68 Anna Spoz
Chart 1. Funds obtained by SMEs from EU programmes (in million PLN).
Source: The European Programme for Modernization of Polish Enterprises (2011, p. 22)
Analysing the value of the EU funds obtained by SMEs from the
regional perspective, it can be noticed that the unquestionable leader in this
category is the Mazovia Province with about 20% of funds distributed so
far. It is followed by the Małopolska Province and the Wielkopolska
Province. Enterprises from the West Pomerania Province are at the bottom
of this list, with only 1.3% of funds allocated by the EU.
0,0 200,0400,0 600,0 800,01000,01200,01400,01600,01800,0
Lower Silesia Province
West Pomerania Province
Innovative Economy Programme Human Capital Programme
Significance of the EU Funds in Investments of Small… 69
For enterprises, the EU funds are among the most affordable ways of
raising money for investment. Thus, in order to find the answer to the
question why this form of support is used so infrequently, SMEs
entrepreneurs were asked about their opinions on difficulty with obtaining
money from EU funds.
Chart 2. How easy is using EU funds?
Source: Prepared by the author on the basis of the Programme for Modernization of Polish
Enterprises (2011, p. 35).
Only 1% of the surveyed companies claimed that it was very easy to
obtain EU funds, while 38% of the surveyed SMEs replied that it was
rather difficult to receive EU support, and 29% of them answered that it
was very difficult.
In order to find out the reasons for such a negative evaluation of
accessibility of EU funds to the SME sector, the owners of those enterprises
were asked to estimate their own knowledge concerning the opportunities
for receiving EU funds.
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40%
neither easy nor difficult
70 Anna Spoz
Chart 3. How do enterprises evaluate their knowledge of EU funds?
Source: Prepared by the author on the basis of the Programme for Modernization of Polish
Enterprises (2011, p. 36).
In reply to this question, only 6% of the surveyed enterprises claimed
that they knew almost everything about this issue, while 29% declared that
they knew much. The majority of the surveyed enterprises (38%) replied
that they only knew a bit about opportunities for obtaining EU funds,
whereas 5% of the questioned companies from the SME sector did not
know anything about this.
There are many advantages of using EU funds for investment by small and
The most important include:
− the low cost of gaining money for investment – obtaining the same
amount of money from financial institutions in the form of credit or
loan would entail additional costs connected with credit management,
i.e. interest, commission for arrangement of loan, commission for
application processing, insurance, etc.
− the opportunity for implementation or extension of an investment – the
opportunity for investment co-financing is frequently a decisive factor
in its implementation. Sometimes, additional financial means enable
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40%
I know almost everything
I know much
I know something
I know little
I don't know anything
Significance of the EU Funds in Investments of Small… 71
extension of the planned scope of investment or enhancement of its
− increasing the rate of investment – investment plans of companies are
prepared for a specific period of time. Prolonged implementation can
weaken the effects or can make the aims outdated.
An indirect but equally important benefit from EU funding is improved
competitive advantage of these enterprises and their better position on the
Nevertheless, business practice demonstrates that SMEs encounter many
obstacles in the process of obtaining and using EU funds. In the “Blacklist
of Barriers to Enterprise Development 2012” the Polish Confederation
Lewiatan devoted one chapter to the restrictions faced by business entities
which apply for EU funding. In accordance with their character, particular
barriers were classified into four groups: project financing, institutional
efficiency, information system, and partnership.
Table 1. Barriers to using structural funds
long time of verification of payment applications
− delays in payments to beneficiaries
− a bureaucratic system of financial settlements in co-financed programmes
(the need to submit and verify all financial and other documents confirming
expenses in payment applications
− limited flexibility of project budgets (too many details in the cost and task
schedules cause problems with adjustment of the project to the current
situation and make it necessary to amend the co-funding agreement many
− lack of the unambiguous definition of the “competition rule” used at
selecting contractors of building works / suppliers of goods and services in
projects carried out by the entities which are not obligated to follow the
provisions of the Public Procurement Law
poor quality of service offered to applicants and beneficiaries
− bureaucratized procedures of applying for grants, resulting from high
complexity and excessive details of competition rules
− too complicated formal criteria (in most cases, formal assessment of the
application was more important than substantive evaluation)
− substantive criteria which do not match the realities of running a business
− low credibility of appeal measures, as the applications were re-examined by
the same institutions whose previous evaluation was protested or appealed
against by the applicant
72 Anna Spoz
Table 1 continued
limited opportunities for rational planning of investment (due to the
necessity to stick to the competition schedule it is not possible to plan a
project well in advance or to prepare and submit an application at convenient
− exceeding the announced deadlines
− scattered information about available instruments of support for
− poor quality of information for applicants - entrepreneurs (unclear structure
of websites, no updates, incomplete or limited information e.g. in the form
of FAQ, lack of quick replies to questions)
− lack of professional training offer for beneficiaries of the regional
operational programmes at the level of implementing institutions.
limited influence of beneficiaries on the form of programmes and procedures
of their implementation
Source: Compiled by the author on the basis of data of the Polish Confederation Lewiatan
(2012, pp. 40-50).
It should be emphasized that the above-mentioned barriers occur with
various intensity in particular programmes and regions.
Owing to the internationalization of the contemporary markets and the re-
sultant increase in competition, enterprises which want to be successful on
the market should permanently include investment projects into their strat-
Investment is a demanding process because it entails contributing of
own funds necessary to implement an investment or otherwise obtaining
funds from external sources. This process is especially difficult for SMEs
due to their limited tangible, financial and intangible resources. Therefore,
an opportunity to obtain co-funding is a chance for these enterprises.
Nevertheless, business practice demonstrates that the most frequent way
of investment financing in the SME sector is own funds. Only 13% of enti-
ties admitted that they received EU assistance.
Significance of the EU Funds in Investments of Small… 73
Such small interest of entrepreneurs from the SME sector in EU funding
is definitely an unfavourable phenomenon. Firstly, because this is one of
most affordable ways of obtaining capital for investment projects. Second-
ly, an opportunity to receive financial support can be the decisive factor in
implementation of investment. Furthermore, additional funding can extend
the scope of investment, increase its rate or/and enhance quality of its im-
Unfortunately, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs face many obsta-
cles on their way to EU funding. All these obstacles are reflected in specific
expenses incurred by these entities. Even though they are not registered
anywhere, these costs are neither trivial nor small. For instance, if the veri-
fication process is too long the application can become outdated, or a pro-
longed period of waiting for payment can result in problems with maintain-
ing financial liquidity of an enterprise. Therefore, initiatives of the state
facilitating the system of applying for grants and monitoring of their usage
and are definitely needed and expected by the SME sector.
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