Boosting sustainable economic development and supporting job creation is at the heart of EU's contribution to stabilising its neighbourhood. In the past years the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries have achieved significant progress in reforming their economies and integrating into global market place. Since 2010 overall business climate in the EaP countries has also improved and EaP countries as a whole made substantial efforts to encourage the growth of their Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs).
Many SMEs in the region however, remain tied to low value-added sectors and still don't contribute as they could to job creation and export. There is a need to support them to increase their share in value added production and employment rates, aiming in particular at increasing export potential of SMEs.
The European Union is a key trading partner for most of the EaP countries. According to a recent Commission analysis, intra-regional trade in the EaP is relatively limited, although liberalization of trade in goods on the basis of regional (Free Trade Agreement with the Community of Independent States) and several bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) concluded in the past already exist. It seems that the intra-regional demand for EaP products is currently low considering their limited and similar range of traded goods (with the exception of Azerbaijan, which differs due to an economy with a strong component on energy products and trade), hence diversification and specialization in some intermediate products are needed for trade enhancement in the region. Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia recently joined the Regional Convention on pan Euro Mediterranean preferential rules of origin which could improve potential for intra-regional trade.
The role of local business associations in promoting economic development is essential for the sustainable development of the economies of the six EaP countries. However, the business organisations in the six countries have been found to be fairly weak: they generally suffer from lack of resources, limited services on offer and limited participation and impact on public policies. This applies both to Chambers of Commerce and employers' federations; specialised organisations, such as women associations or sector federations, are even weaker, often with no permanent staff, very low membership and no operating budget. Continuing support to business associations to enhance their management capacities and the quality of their services is essential.
The recently ended East Invest project (2010-2017) was a regional investment and trade facilitation project for the economic development of the Eastern Neighbourhood region. It provided direct support to both SME and Business Support Organizations across the region to increase trade and networking opportunities with the EU via the organisation of trade fairs, investment forum and participation of SMEs in the so called "road-shows". East Invest identified six sectors as having the greatest potential for export to the EU and investment from a regional perspective: agro-food, sustainable construction, Information and Communication Technologies, transport & logistics, textiles and tourism. The project was monitored in 2017 and found that East Invest was a very useful first step to boost Business Support Organisations in the East. As on the EU side, private enterprises are still very cautious with trade environment and investment opportunities in the EaP countries the evaluation recommended the next programme to focus on linking under a sectoral appraoch of Eastern Partners’ BSOs directly with EU Member States BSOs.
Objectives of the programme and priority issues
The global objective of this call for proposals is to contribute towards the development of sustainable and equitable economic growth models in the EaP countries, which can generate more investments and improve socio-economic conditions and employment opportunities for citizens.
The specific objective of this call for proposals is to support capacity of sectorial Business Support Organisations to enhance EaP SMEs internationalisation, export capacities and access to new markets. The assistance will focus on sectors that have most potential for export to the EU and EaP intra-regional trade.
In concrete terms, this means supporting the development of quality business networks including the provision of adequate support and linkage services for SMEs, including but not limited to agro-food, sustainable construction, ICT, transport & logistics, textiles and tourism. The main bulk of this component will consist of financial support to third parties activities to reinforce the action of sectorial BSOs notably the internationalisation of their SMEs.
Furthermore, the programme should reach the following results:
Result 1: Increased number of business deals between EaP SMEs and international companies.
Result 2: Capacity of participating sectorial Business Support Organisations (BSOs) has been strengthened to provide improved services towards their members in view of increasing international trade and attract investment.
Priority issues to be addressed include:
• SME's limited access to markets (local & international). Whether at national or international level, most SMEs in EaP countries lack an adequate knowledge of market requirements. This is particularly relevant for countries with an AA/DCFTA which need to meet EU market requirements to reap the full benefits of these agreements.
• Lack of understanding on how to export (to the EU and to the EaP region) and lack of understanding on the sector potential and on the demand for EaP products/services (export promotion): SMEs in the EaP countries often lack the ability to locate, analyse, and pursue commercial opportunities in the local and foreign markets. While limited analysis, strategy, marketing and sales capacities within SMEs are key constraints, the inadequate sector-specific business support services represent an additional hindrance.
• Limited availability of quality sector-specific services to SMEs: There are only a very few sectoral Business Support Organisations (BSOs) capable to provide adequate
The programme is expected to:
• Devise a strategic concept of intervention for the achievement of the specific objective, which will provide guidance and orient the choice of projects in the countries which will receive subgranting.
• Provide financial support to third parties to implement these projects.
• Coherently with the strategy, the programme shall provide and implement a communication strategy, that will ensure proper dissemination of the results achieved through the projects among BSOs and SMEs.
Since the main purpose of this grant is to provide financial support to third parties, at least 3.5 million EURO of the EU contribution must be reserved for this end. This should ensure broad participation of eligible organisations from the different eligible countries.
The proposals must clearly outline the strategic concept which will guide the choice of projects for third parties funding and ensure an adequate usage of these funds. For the financial support to third parties, the same eligibility criteria as defined for actions and activities in these guidelines in chapter 2.1.4 will apply. The consortium will have to demonstrate that it has the strategy, networks, the reputation and the administrative capacity to be able to provide financial assistance to other eligible entities from other EaP countries. An Advisory Board that will be chaired by the European Commission will have to give its approval in order to grant financial support to a third party.
The remaining funds of the EU contribution should be directly implemented by the consortium in line with the operational objective and the results of the guidelines.
Activities will have to be presented in the form of integrated multiannual plans. The plans must provide a description of specific activities to be carried out in the first year and forecasts of activities to be implemented in the following years.
Special attention will be paid during the evaluation process to proposals that:
1.have a clear strategy for supporting women entrepreneurs, to support actions that aim at providing solutions to (country and sector specific) challenges faced by women in business and creating decent employment for women;
2.propose a strategy to promote intraregional initiatives and take advantage of opportunities created by agreements between the target countries and the European Union, such as the Association Agreements;
3.demonstrate how to create European added value, for example fostering exchanges between EU and EaP countries, strengthening institutional networks between both regions, sectors, promote knowledge transfer, and create synergies with existing initiatives, such as COSME and the Enterprise Europe Network.
4.in order to support job creation and poverty reduction attention should be given to women and men who run businesses in rural areas.
Financial allocation provided by the contracting authority
The overall indicative amount made available under this call for proposals is EUR 6,500,000. The contracting authority reserves the right not to award all available funds.
The present Call for Proposals aims at selecting and financing only one contract.
Any grant requested under this call for proposals must fall between the following minimum and maximum amounts:
• minimum amount: EUR 6.000.000
• maximum amount: EUR 6.500.000
The maximum percentage of total eligible costs of the action allowed is 95 % (see also Section 2.1.5).
The balance (i.e. the difference between the total cost of the action and the amount requested from the contracting authority) must be financed from sources other than the general budget of the Union.
Rules and guidelines
These guidelines set out the rules for the submission, selection and implementation of the actions financed under this call, in conformity with the practical guide, which is applicable to the present call (available on the internet at this address
No information session on this call for proposals will be held.
Questions may be sent by e-mail [or by fax] no later than 21 days before the deadline for the submission of concept notes to the address(es) below, indicating clearly the reference of the call for proposals: