THE Government will put growth and competitiveness "at the top of the agenda" when it takes over the EU presidency, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton said yesterday.
Speaking at an EU conference for small and medium enterprises in Dublin, Mr Bruton said the union would rely on small firms to drive future growth.
"Maintaining competitiveness and strengthening the SME sector, in particular, are frontline policy objectives not only in Ireland but right across the EU.
"Europe's economic success depends critically on the ability of our SMEs to achieve their full potential. We have some 23 million SMEs throughout the union -- 99pc of all businesses.
"They provide more than two-thirds of all jobs in the private sector, with 25pc of SMEs exporting goods and services.
"Europe can only prosper if SMEs are given the right opportunities to grow, develop and trade," he added.
Mr Bruton also confirmed the Government would look to push an agreement on the proposed EU's €2.5bn Competitiveness and SME Programme, which "will help facilitate access to finance for SMEs, and help them operate outside their home market and seek to access new markets".
Emphasising the problems in Europe, Mr Bruton added that the "present eurozone and financial crises are tearing away at the very fabric of the single market".