In 2017 there were almost 24.5 million SMEs in the European Union constituting 99.8 % of all non-financial enterprises. (see table above ‘SMEs and large enterprises in the EU-28’). Owing to their importance, SMEs are often referred to as ‘the backbone of the European economy’. In 2017 these firms employed close to 95 million people, meaning that two out of three workers in the EU had an occupation in this sector. Furthermore, European SMEs generated around 57 % of total added value which amounts to €4.16 trillion.
The SME segment is heterogeneous across the EU. While the number of small and medium-sized category firms varies relatively little among EU-28 Member States, the number of micro-enterprises is much more diversified. Looking at the whole EU, these smallest companies constitute 93.1 % of all firms (see chart ‘SMEs by size (2017)’). At the same time they employ almost 30 % of all workforce and generate one-fifth of the value added in the EU. The largest numbers of SMEs are active in the biggest Member States – total numbers vary from Italy with 3 746 000 to Slovakia with 434 000 (see chart ‘Number of SMEs in 2017’). Furthermore, the prevalence of SMEs also varies enormously, with the EU average at 57 per 1000 inhabitants, while Czech Republic has 115, Portugal 98, Germany 34 and Romania 29 (See map ‘Number of SMEs, per 1 000 inhabitants(2017)’). Important differences exist in terms of the contribution to value added and employment of different sub-categories of SME. Interestingly, the Commission estimates that in national economies where micro-enterprises capture a significant amount of value added and employment, medium and large SMEs typically account for only a small share. In 2017, value added created in the total economy by all SMEs varied from 41 % in Ireland to 81 % in Malta, and employment from 54 % in the UK to 85 % Greece (see charts ‘Contribution of SMEs to EU-28 added value and employment (%, 2017)’).