Mr Paul Rübig has been a Member of the European Parliament for the EPP since 1996. Having been an entrepreneur himself, he is now concentrating his political work on supporting small and medium sized businesses. He is a co-founder of SME Europe and rapporteur on Erasmus for young entrepreneurs.
After running your own business you became member of the Austrian Parliament and shortly after that MEP. Why the interest in European politics?
I have been a Member of the European Parliament since 1996, because it was important to me to make the most of the internal market for our economy. With 500 million consumers and 25 million SMEs, the internal market is a great advantage when you want to stimulate the economy today. Eighteen Member States have clearly positioned themselves by endorsing the euro and a total of 28 Member States are working together to foster the internal market. I am proud of what we have accomplished in recent years.
You are one of the founders of SME Europe and one of the EPP spokesmen for SMEs. How do you see the role of SMEs in Europe today?
I recently published a book: entrepreneurs need freedom. Especially in Europe, there is a huge potential for migrants and women. Self-employment is a big challenge but it also offers incredible opportunities, regardless of whether you are active in exports or imports.
Creating jobs is playing an increasingly important role. If every SME created one job, we would not have problems with unemployment.
It takes courage to become self-employed. We need to ensure improvements in the field of entrepreneurial education and training as it will create new jobs and wealth. Wealth is not something to be distributed, it has to be earned.
The recent economic crisis has caused extremely high youth unemployment in many EU Member States. How can we prevent young people from becoming discouraged and encourage them to become entrepreneurs?
It is crucial that the tools you need to become an entrepreneur have already been given to you during your education and vocational training. This starts in nursery school with taking control over your own decision-making and this process continues until university. Today, many students have the courage to set up so-called spin-off companies.
Society has to be open minded towards people who want to become self-employed and offer them certain benefits. They should not face financial burdens from the beginning as they usually need to get all their financial resources from family, friends, and acquaintances for equity investments and to get loans. Ultimately, these loans must be repaid.
Therefore, the taxation of enterprises needs to be changed, especially during the early founding years. The charges entrepreneurs and the self-employed have to pay should be reduced to zero. This is an investment for the state and the economy. Entrepreneurs should be supported, especially at the beginning, rather than put obstacles in their way. Eighty per cent of new jobs in Europe are created by companies that are younger than 5 years. You should ensure that companies can keep their financial assets instead of taking them away.
You are the initiator of Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs, a programme that allows young entrepreneurs to learn from experienced professionals in a foreign country. How valuable are these cross-cultural experiences for young entrepreneurs?
I proposed this programme to the European Budget Committee and thankfully it was accepted. We started with a small budget and established a framework in which we could organise exchanges of young entrepreneurs in Europe. This has proved to be a great success, our new target is to exchange 10,000 entrepreneurs per year. The next step would be to broaden the scope in order to include exchanges with parties outside the EU, because we want to make it a global programme! I see great opportunities especially for people working in im- and exports, but also for the production and manufacturing industries. We need people who are committed and willing to take risks.
So far, about 7,000 young entrepreneurs have taken part in the exchange programme. The programme is being improved constantly. It is about transmitting the knowledge that people need. The hosts benefit greatly from the experience as well, especially in view of the business succession issue. Learning how businesses work in other countries and cultures minimises the risk. For a start-up, it is important to not bear too much risk at the beginning but rather evolve and grow step by step. You have to start with hiring the first employee and then develop from small business to mid-size business, and hopefully one day become a world market leader.
What other programmes or measures were created at the European level to promote young entrepreneurship?
I strongly supported the creation of COSME, a programme with a budget of approximately 2 billion euros that supports companies by providing guarantees. Companies active in exports and imports need performance bonds and guarantees; in order to support these SMEs co-financing at the European level should be extended.
There is also the European Investment Fund. The EU, the European Investment Bank, national banks and entrepreneurs share the risks, which is a good investment for all stakeholders.
Four per cent of the Horizon 2020 budget goes to a bottom-up programme for SMEs. SMEs can access another 20 per cent of the total 77 billion through cooperation with universities, research institutes and large companies.
These programmes are extremely attractive financially, but most importantly they bring people together. Confidence building with business partners is key for business progress and these programmes help to connect and organise business contacts.
At the age of 19 you already took on a managerial position in the Rübig Company Group. Having been a young entrepreneur yourself once, what are your tips for ambitious aspiring young entrepreneurs?
The crucial factor is that you find something that you really enjoy; a type of work that you feel passionate about. You need to make sure that you become an expert in the field and come up with an outstanding offer! It always starts with positive personal conviction.
When it comes to financing, you need to make sure that the biggest decisions have been incorporated in a business plan. Check out others’ best practice and do benchmarking, know what the competition has to offer, and conduct market- and opinion research.
You need to think it through, come up with a complete package. Remember the founder of Redbull. He retreated into solitude for three years to develop his corporate strategies. In the end, he came up with a really good concept that was credible and made investors willing to get on board. Success has proved: good planning from the start is everything!