EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

SME United

SMEunited is a European association representing the interests of crafts and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Up to November 2018, SMEunited was called the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (known by its acronym UEAPME after the French name, Union européenne de l’artisanat et des petites et moyennes entreprises). SMEunited is a recognised European social partner and acts on behalf of crafts and SMEs in the European social dialogue and in discussions with the EU institutions. As the European SME umbrella organisation, SMEunited incorporates around 70 member organisations from over 30 European countries. Full members, which have voting rights in the association’s bodies, are the national cross-sectoral crafts and SME federations from EU countries. Associate members, with no voting rights, are the European branch federations, national cross-sectoral SME federations from non-EU countries and other associate members that support the SME family. SMEunited states that it represents over 12 million enterprises with around 55 million employees.

UEAPME was excluded from the social dialogue negotiations that led to the framework agreement on parental leave in 1996, as UNICE (now BUSINESSEUROPE) was considered to be the body representing the interests of employers. As a result, on 5 September 1996, UEAPME invoked Article 230 EC (now Article 263 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) before the European Court of First Instance (CFI) to challenge the validity of the directive implementing the agreement ( Council Directive 96/34/EC of 3 June 1996 on the framework agreement on parental leave concluded by UNICE, CEEP and ETUC). The complaint was dismissed by the CFI on 17 June 1998 on the grounds that UNICE, the social partner representing the employers that had negotiated the parental leave agreement, was sufficiently representative of SMEs (Case T-135/96 (1998)).

The expectation was that UEAPME would appeal the decision of the CFI to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Instead, the two bodies issued a ‘Proposal for a cooperation agreement between UNICE and UEAPME’, dated 12 November 1998, whereby UNICE agreed to consult UEAPME prior to taking public positions on behalf of the employer group in social dialogue and negotiating meetings and UEAPME representatives would fully participate in preparatory meetings of the employer group and in plenary meetings with ETUC. From this time, UEAPME – now SMEunited – has become a recognised partner in the European social dialogue alongside UNICE, now BUSINESSEUROPE.

On 7 November 2018, SMEunited – whose new motto is ‘shaping Europe for SMEs, shaping SMEs for Europe’ – adopted a memorandum for the 2019 European elections. The document outlines the political position of the organisation as ‘guaranteeing access to social protection for entrepreneurs’ and ‘adapting labour legislation at all appropriate levels to contribute to a renewed flexibility and security for employers and workers’.

See also: BUSINESSEUROPE; European social dialogue; European social partners; representativeness; small and medium-sized enterprise

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