European citizens must be encouraged to create enterprises, the European Union’s Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner told a Thessaloniki audience yesterday. Speaking at a congress on the future of entrepreneurship in Europe, Commissioner Erkki Liikanen presented the Commission’s Green Paper on entrepreneurship which calls for minimizing bureaucratic obstacles, taking measures to reduce risks for would-be entrepreneurs and educating people on the benefits of entrepreneurship. Liikanen admitted that EU members are still too bureaucratic and that they discourage enterprise creation. In that respect, he said, Europe lags far behind the USA. As a result, he said, quoting a Eurobarometer survey, only 4.5 percent of European citizens took the steps needed to create an enterprise or actually set one up during the past two years, compared to 13 percent in the USA. In Europe, this percentage varies from less than 2 percent in France to 6 percent in the UK. The number of Europeans who initiated steps to create an enterprise but failed to complete their endeavor was double that of Americans. Even more worrying, only 30 percent of Europe’s 20 million small and medium-sized enterprises listed growth as their main priority. There are things that can be done to reverse these tendencies, Liikanen said. They include tax incentives to aid enterprise creation and expansion, measures to blunt the negative repercussions of bankruptcy, as well as easier access to hedge funds. Liikanen noted that the Greek presidency of the EU had a special interest in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and called upon Greece to establish an Entrepreneurship Day to alert people to the advantages of enterprise creation. Finally, Liikanen called on all European governments to be more attentive to the needs of SMEs and to make enterprise education from elementary school onward a priority. Earlier, Greek Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said that entrepreneurship was absolutely necessary for social and economic development and said that a long-lasting belief that enterprise gains were to be denounced has been rendered irrelevant. That, coming from someone who, until recently, led the hardcore socialist opposition to the reformist policies of Prime Minister Costas Simitis, caused a stir in the audience.