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European Private Business Survey 2018

Domestic red tape worries entrepreneurs more than EU bureaucracy as skills shortage looms large

What's on the minds of Europe's entrepreneurs? Insights of 2,447 private businesses across 31 European countries.

European Private Business Survey

Private businesses are the backbone of the European economy. They are in good shape and growing by focusing on their domestic markets, increasing their product and service portfolio and digitalisation. Despite the overall positive sentiment, entrepreneurs are concerned about several factors which might negatively impact their expected growth:

  • They see regulation and bureaucracy in their domestic economies as more of a threat to the development of their companies than regulation and bureaucracy coming from the EU. In our survey of 2,447 companies across 31 European countries, 39% said domestic red tape was a concern, compared with about 29% citing EU red tape as a problem.
  • Their biggest concern is a skills shortage that is preventing them from hiring the right talent for growth, costing the region a massive €324 billion annually in lost revenues – just from private businesses. 
  • There is uncertainty about the impact of Brexit, considering that the UK is a sizable market for private businesses.
  • Cyber is significantly underestimated as a risk.

View the key findings below and explore results with our data explorer. More detailed analysis, commentary and implications are provided in the full report.  

PwC\'s Clients and Markets leader for EMEA, Mark Smith, introduces the key insights of PwC\'s European Private Business Survey 2018. Duration: 2:04

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Findings at a glance

Europe’s private businesses are optimistic and growing

Buoyed by economic growth all over Europe, private businesses feel confident about the here and now, and are ambitious about their growth plans in the next 12 months. They want to invest more in technology-led initiatives and hire extra staff in order to grow their businesses by embracing digital and focusing especially on their home economies.

How private businesses want to realise their growth ambitions

Private businesses are particularly confident that they can grow their companies in their domestic markets by focusing on their customers and embracing digital technologies.

Yet the majority is underestimating its disruptive force as well as the risks associated with digital: Only 19% see cyber as a looming risk. For staying a step ahead of their competitors they need to have the right infrastructure and skills, but especially skills are short in European economies.

Skills shortage and regulation limit entrepreneurs’ growth potential

Skills shortage

Skill shortages are holding the entire European economy back, causing a massive €324 billion annually in lost revenues just from private businesses. That’s around the annual economic output of Portugal, Hungary and Croatia. Talent scarcity comes at a time when youth unemployment is still high in Southern Europe and economies are faced with immigrants from non-EU countries. Effectively, the employment market is tightening at a time when private businesses are wanting to invest more and recruit more qualified staff to grow their businesses.


Private businesses often see themselves at the sharp end of regulations and bureaucracy as they don’t have the wherewithal to influence governments as big business can. 39% see domestic regulation as a major threat to their business, while only 29% are upset about regulation and bureaucracy from the EU. That sentiment was particularly pronounced in countries such as Croatia, Greece, Finland, and Hungary. Also in Italy, where anti-establishment, euro-sceptic parties have very recently scored electoral success, as many as 49% of respondents felt domestic bureaucracy was a problem, compared with 20% singling out EU red tape. Even in the UK private businesses felt domestic bureaucracy and regulation were more of a threat to their businesses than EU bureaucracy and regulation, i.e. almost 35% of respondents cited British red tape as a concern, compared with 25% pointing the finger at EU red tape.

Too vague to be worried

Brexit is less than a year away and many private businesses are uncertain about how it will affect them. Over a quarter of private businesses expect Brexit to bring negative impact on their businesses in the future, but mostly don’t have a view on it. They would like to wait and see the outcome of the negotiations before making any judgements, but this might not be a good strategy given the importance of close trade relations with the UK.

Interestingly private businesses in some countries see Brexit as an opportunity, such as Turkey: Given Turkey is outside of the European Union some businesses there perceive Brexit as a chance to forge new relationships with British companies.


Explore the data

Use the filters below to see how our survey's entrepreneur and private business respondents feel about key issues effecting their organisations. 

Talent as key resource
Invest in talent as part of growth strategy
Find it difficult to get skilled employees
Current state of business
Positive expectation
Negative expectation
Digitalization as key growth strategy
% of companies say 'Digital'
Bureaucracy & regulation
Domestic bureaucracy as key risk
EU regulation as key risk
Net % positive sentiment, outlook 12 months
Own business
Home country

"For Europe's entrepreneurs, reskilling and upskilling the current workforce, and staying adaptable is key in responding to skills shortage."

Peter EnglischGlobal Family Business Leader, EMEA Private Business Leader, PwC Germany