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LIFE+ | Be your own boss: Entrepreneurship and the EU

One of the ways in which the European Commission fights unemployment is by supporting entrepreneurs and the self-employed. Here’s how.

The crisis in Europe has highlighted the importance of self-employment as an opportunity for those without work. This is especially true in EU Member States that have been most affected by the economic crisis and where traditional jobs are in short supply. A new business may create jobs for others, lead to new skills, and may even give unemployed and vulnerable people a chance to contribute to society and the economy. With this in mind, the European Commission’s support strategy for entrepreneurship and self-employment has three focal points.

Start-ups by the unemployed and people from disadvantaged groups

Many people decide to start a new business after being unemployed for a long time. Then there are also the vulnerable groups, such as youth, women, seniors, migrants or people with disabilities, who face many different obstacles when they try to start their own company or keep it running. The Commission provides support in these situations in a number of ways.

Since knowledge is power, the Commission joined forces with the OECD to increase knowledge and learning about entrepreneurship. Their initiatives include policy briefs and publications such as the Missing Entrepreneurs series. These published reports examine how public policies can create jobs by getting rid of hurdles that people from disadvantaged groups face when trying to start a new business. Each edition also includes case studies of public programmes that support business creation in various Member States.

The EU’s Public Employment Services in each Member State provide more direct support for start-ups, such as financial aid, mentoring and training. Recent measures include:

  • counsellors to help jobseekers who want to become self-employed;

  • subsidies for previously unemployed women starting their own business;

  • start-up training and assistance for older people;

  • financial assistance for young entrepreneurs.

The Start-up and Scale-up initiative, a new EU strategy, aims to improve the conditions for start-ups to grow, create more jobs and make the EU more competitive.

Social Enterprises

Social enterprises are businesses whose main objective isn’t to make a profit, but rather to help society. Recycling companies, businesses providing services to the elderly and newspaper companies that hire homeless people to sell their newspapers are just three examples of a social enterprise.

The biggest problem such businesses face is access to finance. To help them, the Commission provides funding through various programmes, such as the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovationand the European Fund for Strategic Investments Equity instrument.


Microenterprises are small businesses that employ up to nine people and have an annual turnover or balance sheet of less than EUR 2 million. The vast majority of Europe’s businesses are microenterprises, which is why they play such an important role in the Commission’s plan to fight unemployment.

Like social enterprises, these small businesses usually have no access to traditional commercial loans. However, they could benefit from a number of microfinance opportunities, such as microloans, which are loans of up to EUR 25 000. The EU therefore provides support through the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation and the European Social Fund.

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