By Tom Mudd The people behind Europe's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are calling on decision-makers within the European Union (EU) to hack away at the bureaucratic thicket now strangling European entrepreneurialism. Noting that there are as many as 20 steps required to start a new business in some member states, the head of Italy's employers' confederation, Francesco Bellotti, said the EU should emulate the U.S. in fostering an entrepreneurial environment. "Europe urgently needs more entrepreneurs," said Bellotti, "but this will depend on creating a business-friendly environment." Bellotti was speaking late last month at the second annual conference for SMEs held by UNICE (Union of Industrial and Employer's Confederations of Europe), whose SME committee he chairs. Bellotti and others at the conference called on EU leaders to push for a lower tax burden on business, while others noted that a lack of skilled workers is also of grave concern to European businesses. Erkki Liikanen, European commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, said in a speech to conference attendees that the European Commission -- the policy-making body atop the cumbersome EU structure -- is listening to the concerns of entrepreneurs. "We have strengthened our efforts to cut red tape and accelerated the pace of reform and modernization in key areas where improvement is necessary," said Liikanen. "Europe will never really be competitive as long as it is less entrepreneurial than our competitors."