Commenting today on the publication of the Commission’s updated Industrial Strategy, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“We strongly support the new focus on essential ecosystems, including retail, in the updated Industrial Strategy. Retail and wholesale play a vital role in the European economy and the functioning of numerous other ecosystems. We need support in the digital and green transition to help drive the post-COVID recovery, and for wholesalers to be recognised as an important part of numerous ecosystems. The strategy also needs to be firmly linked to a competitive, single European market which serves consumers, as a basis for building resilience and competing internationally.”
The strategy represents an important framework for recovery in which we can be a central force. We provide employment to 29 million Europeans, (10 million in wholesale), and are an anchor for local communities. Private consumption makes up 50% of EU GDP, and our sector is closely connected to, and feeds numerous other ecosystems. More mapping of how ecosystems interact, and how the strategy can build on these links is needed,and in this analysis, for wholesalers to be recognised as playing an important role in the EU economy and the supply chain, connecting suppliers and business customers across numerous ecosystems.
Minimum wage initiative lacks legal basis: it must respect the autonomous role of social partners in wage-setting as well as statutory minimum wages
Brussels, 05 May 2021 - As representatives of sectoral employers, strongly engaged in social dialogue at national and EU level, we are committed to continuously improve the working conditions of our employees and share the objectives. We are however strongly concerned about the implications of the proposal for a Directive on adequate minimum wages on the role of Social Partners and on statutory minimum wages.
Indeed, as EU sectoral employers, we firmly believe in the autonomous role of our members in collective bargaining at national, sectoral and company level and support the right of Member States to set minimum wages according to national law and practice. Regrettably, the proposal does not respect these two core principles underpinning the European social market economy. For us, the EU has no competence to introduce any action regarding pay and collective bargaining as there is no legal basis to do so.
For these reasons, the sectors we represent are highly concerned about the proposed Directive. They fear in particular that top-down governmental intervention may crowd out better, closer-to-the-ground solutions, devised by social partners at national, sectoral and company level. The ability to set wages at the closest possible level to the workplace is crucial to adequately and timely respond to the rapid change taking place in our sectors.
As employers from different sectors that need dynamic and adaptable labour markets, we also challenge the European Commission assessment that there is a lack of social protection for certain forms of work, such as part-time work, fixed-term contracts and temporary agency work. Especially for these three forms of work, specific EU Directives are already in place, ensuring appropriate working conditions.
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Welcoming the long-awaited publication of the Commission communication on better regulation, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said today:
“It is some 6 years since Frans Timmermans launched the Commission’s new approach to better regulation, and we welcome Vice-President Šefčovič's updated communication on the subject. Getting regulation right can be instrumental in creating new business opportunities and properly functioning markets. Getting it wrong can turn good ideas into legislation which does not deliver what it intended and possibly harms the people it aimed to help. That is why we believe that scrupulous and full consideration of the impact of legislation, not least on SMEs, and proper consultation of those likely to be affected by it, is essential to making regulation work as intended, and contributing to a competitive European economy.”
The Commission communication is an important step forward in making sure that legislation works as it should in underpinning important European policy objectives – not least in helping create a resilient, competitive EU economy which protects consumers and allows industry, not least the retail and wholesale ecosystem, to innovate and meet the significant challenges of digital and sustainability transformation, and thus provide rewarding employment to Europe’s citizens.
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On today’s EU Trade Policy Day, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren commented :
“The COVID pandemic has hit the European and global economy hard. With some signs of Europe starting to see a slow return to normal life, the focus must now be on definitively beating the virus and building economic recovery. Some countries have reacted to the COVID crisis by erecting new barriers when all the experience shows that keeping trade open, whether within the EU single market or globally, is the best way to drive growth – and closing it down in a negative cycle of ‘beggar-my-neighbour’ is a guaranteed path to slowing recovery.”
The International Monetary Fund has recently shown that trade has already shown its ability to be an engine for economic recovery. Global trade volumes are expected to go up by 8.4% in 2021 and by further 6.5% in 2022. It is imperative that these encouraging figures will not be choked off by protectionist steps theoretically intended to support the economy but will serve the protection of a few sectors at the cost of the rest of the economy and consumers. Planned trade policy measures such as the carbon border adjustment mechanism or the anti-coercion instrument will need to be designed carefully to avoid acting as a brake on recovery and a trigger for protectionism more widely.
EuroCommerce Narrative on Retail and Wholesale in a changing world…
The world is changing rapidly. Retailers and wholesalers have repeatedly shown how resilient and adaptive they are, and are moving ahead with embracing this change, providing value to customers, suppliers, and society at large. This great story is worth telling – both to the sector and to the wider world. And the story needs to say clearly what we want from the EU and from national governments to make our sector sustainably competitive.
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Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides spoke today at the launch of the EuroCommerce #sustainablecommerce website, which illustrates the diversity and scale of initiatives adopted by retailers and wholesalers to support more sustainable consumption and healthier lifestyles and encourage sustainability across the food supply chain in line with the Farm-to-Fork strategy.
EuroCommerce Director-General, Christian Verschueren, underlined the commitment of the sector to these objectives:
“Retailers and wholesalers welcome and support the direction set in the Farm-to-Fork Strategy. The sector has been a pioneer, leading the way on a whole range of initiatives to operate more sustainably, and encouraging customers to adopt healthier and more sustainable lifestyles. Achieving the Farm-to-Fork objectives will need the whole supply chain to be working together. Our members have been working with their suppliers to ensure the products they sell allow consumers to live a healthier and more sustainable life.We see this as an important starting point in a longer-term process and have asked the Commission to help create a structure for dialogue among all players in the supply chain.”
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Commenting to the publication today of the review of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive and EU taxonomy rules, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“The review of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive and the EU taxonomy rules offers a welcome opportunity to develop a harmonised methodology and standards in this important area. European retail and wholesale have long supported, and committed to help drive, the green economy. We have also consistently stressed the need for this to be based on science, and to use comparable methodologies. There is much expertise already out there internationally, and we will be pressing for the European approach to be aligned closely to existing, globally-recognised international standards and guidance.”
Sustainability is a daily reality for the retail and wholesale sector. Consumers, not least since the COVID pandemic, are looking to ensure that what they buy is produced sustainably and ethically. Retailers and wholesalers across Europe have already committed to ensure that their purchasing and operations support this, and, in close cooperation with their suppliers, have published wide-reaching strategies for achieving these objectives. In line with this, we strongly support effective and appropriate tools to ensure that consumption fits our planet’s resources.
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Marking today’s publication of the draft EU Regulation on a European approach for Artificial Intelligence, Christian Verschueren, Director-General of EuroCommerce said:
”Retailers and wholesalers have been using artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies for many years to improve the service they can provide to their customers. AI can support faster deliveries, better predictions of demand, stock management, fraud detection, safer payments and help make our operations more sustainable. AI embraces a lot of different areas, and regulation needs to reflect that. The applications used by retailers and wholesalers carry little or no direct risks for individuals, as they focus on improving operational efficiencies and more personalised offerings. We are therefore pleased that the draft regulation concentrates on building safety and trust by particularly addressing higher-risk applications.“
In its contribution to the consultation on the Commission AI white paper published last year, EuroCommerce welcomed the inclusion of retail and wholesale among the safe sectors and highlighted the need to secure a future-proof framework to support innovative and competitive use of AI in Europe. We are pleased to see that the draft regulation establishes an application-based AI framework and regulates those applications according to their intended use, i.e. on whether they will be used for internal business processes, decision tools, or uses which hold physical safety risks or other impacts on individuals. This is very much in line with the approach which we advocated in the consultation.
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Speaking at the Commission Roundtable on Skills for the Retail Ecosystem with Commissioners Thierry Breton and Nicolas Schmit today, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“Retail is a people business, serving people. Everyone working in retail has worked hard in ensuring that consumers have a reliable supply of daily essentials during the Covid-19 crisis. Many non-food retailers have suffered badly under repeated and extended lockdowns in many countries. The pandemic has massively accelerated the trend towards digitalisation and online sales. EU and national authorities now need help our companies, especially SMEs, equip their employees with the skills needed to master these digital systems in the workplace.”
Together with EuroCommerce’s Director-General (as the recognised social partner for the retail sector), senior executives from 8 retail companies presented how their companies are investing in up- and reskilling of their employees amid a rapidly changing world of work and the digital transformation in retail. Retail provides stable and fulfilling jobs for 18 million people – and another 10 million in wholesale distribution. It has a strong track record in building up the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. Informal work-based learning ensures retail employees meet the ever-changing demands of their local customers.
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Speaking today on the launch of the Commission 2030 Action Plan for organic production, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“Retail and wholesale have been pioneers in aiding consumers to move to healthy and sustainable diets and lifestyles.The COVID pandemic has made people focus even more on this, but in many parts of the market, demand for organic products outstrips supply, and we are pleased to see the Commission’s ideas to boost organic production under the plan. For our part, we know that the transition to organic costs time and money, and many retailers have given support to farmers making the change.”
Over the last 10 years, consumer sales of organic have grown over 145%, to some €41 billion, although in most markets it still makes up less than 10% of food sales. The COVID pandemic has accelerated this trend: a joint EuroCommerce-McKinsey report shows that, in 2021, 50% of consumers across Europe plan to adapt their grocery spend, especially towards healthy and sustainable foods. Retail and wholesale have been driving this trend for many years and are stepping up their organic offerings further.
After COVID-19 shake up, grocery shoppers demand more health, online and value – resulting in ongoing disruptions and uncertainty in grocery retailRead more
The Disruption and Uncertainty – State of Grocery Retail 2021 report, launched today by McKinsey & Company and EuroCommerce, takes a comprehensive look at the long term-trends and effects of the pandemic on the European grocery industry.
The report first recaps the industry developments in 2020 – it looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the European grocery landscape at unprecedented speed and scale, with government restrictions impacting shopping patterns and accelerating a dramatic shift to online.
• Revenues were positively impacted by the pandemic – based on Europanel data, during the first lockdown in March 2020, grocery sales in Europe increased on average by 20%, and by 10% during 2020 as a whole
• At the same time, costs increased owing to pressure on supply chains and the growing need for additional hygiene measures
• The stricter lockdowns became, the more consumers changed their shopping patterns, shopped at different supermarkets or ordered their groceries online. In total 60% of consumers changed the store they shop in or went shopping online
Disruption and Uncertainty – State of Grocery Retail 2021, based on both the CEO survey and consumer research, identified four key trends that will shape the industry over the next years. These are based on the areas consumers intend to spend more money on and what CEOs see as the key industry-shaping trends, with the majority expecting an increased focus on adjusting to shoppers who want variety, value and online.
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After ten years at the helm, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren has informed the Board that he would be standing down from his post later this year after a successor has been appointed. The EuroCommerce Board will be starting the process of finding a new Director-General.
Christian Verschueren said: “I believe that, together with our members and our great team, we have made the voice for retail and wholesale better heard over the last decade. Ten years is a long time in today’s fast-paced environment, particularly our sector, and renewal is healthy for any organisation. And with EuroCommerce at the cusp of a new era and with a new three-year strategy about to be developed, I thought that it was a good time for me to step down. A new leader will bring new energy and fresh ideas, and write the next chapter for this great organisation. The retail and wholesale sector, not always sufficiently recognised for the service it provides to Europeans, deserves this.”
EuroCommerce President Régis Degelcke added: “Much as I regret his decision to stand down, I respect it. Christian has had a major impact on the cohesion and effectiveness of our organisation, and he has given our sector a stronger political standing in Brussels and Strasbourg. He is leaving EuroCommerce in good shape, and this will facilitate a smooth transition to the new leadership.”
Christian Verschueren has agreed to ensure a smooth transition and stays in his role until a new Director-General is established in his/her position, sometime in the second half of this year.
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Noting the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union today on the Polish retail and Hungarian advertising taxes (C 562/19 P Commission v Poland and C 596/19 P Commission v Hungary), EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren commented:
“We do not question the European Court’s judgment, that focused on the methodology used by the Commission to assess whether the tax constituted unlawful state aid. But we do question the judgment of governments imposing turnover taxes with a clear discriminatory impact. The companies particularly affected have invested billions of euros to offer consumers in their countries a wide choice of quality products at competitive prices. Taxes based on the turnover of retail companies with a high turnover, but very low profit margin put at risk these retailers’ ability to continue investing in those countries to innovate and give consumers the service they have come to expect”.
Taxes should be fair, non-discriminatory and ensure fair competition between all market players. Retail is the biggest collector of indirect taxes in the EU, and pays some additional € 70 billion in labour, corporate and other direct taxation. Why we are so concerned at turnover-based taxes on retailers is that they can give an unfair advantage to domestic competitors. On top of this we see companies already subject to other discriminatory measures in these and other Central and Eastern European countries, making it difficult to operate, regularly breaching single market rules and not observing European standards of rule of law. These have a significant effect on the prices consumers pay and the choice of products and services available to them.
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EuroCommerce was proud to welcome Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager to the latest of its online Policy Talks today. The audience heard the Executive Vice President speak and answer questions on recovery after COVID, the digital and sustainability transformation of the EU economy and how competition policy can be aligned with the demands of the digital era to ensure a competitive EU market. On the challenges facing the retail and wholesale ecosystem during and after the COVID pandemic, Ms. Vestager said:
"During the crisis, Europe's retail and wholesale sectors showed a remarkable resilience, quickly adapting to changed working conditions, keeping employees and consumers safe, and ensuring security of supply. Our aim is to support these sectors by safeguarding strong and competitive markets and by promoting the necessary changes for businesses in the digital age."
EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“Ms. Vestager has often said something our sector believes passionately – that strong competition at home is the best means of achieving competitiveness globally, and delivering the best results for consumers. We compete every day for customers and need competitive supply chains and a properly-functioning single market to be able to serve them with a wide choice of the best products and services at a competitive price. A competition framework fit for the digital age, which, through effective enforcement, supports resilience and the digital and sustainability transition, will be vital for the future of our sector.”
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Welcoming the publication of the Commission’s 2030 Digital Targets today, Christian Verschueren, Director-General of EuroCommerce said:
“We very much support the Commission in their planning for the successful digital transformation of Europe by 2030. Retail and wholesale companies are already embracing digital, and have invested in accelerating their plans in response to the significant switch to online sales during the COVID pandemic. But the sector needs help in this: for example, 2 out of 3 retail companies, especially SMEs, do not sell online and have, as a result, been hard hit by the crisis. These urgently need support to make this transition, vital to their survival. All businesses need Europe to invest in a state-of-the-art digital infrastructure everywhere and to upskill its people to remain competitive.”
The retail and wholesale sector is undergoing a profound transformation, responding to consumer demand for increased choice of products, and choice of how, when and where they buy them. The COVID crisis has demonstrated how important digitalisation for retailers and wholesalers. While many in our sector have been affected by the crisis, those who had online operations were able at least to partly mitigate the impact. But building up e-commerce and an omnichannel offering to consumers takes a lot of initial investment and a lot of time to break even.
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Commenting on the launch today of the Commission Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“Retail and wholesale are a people business, serving people. We provide stable and fulfilling jobs for 29 million Europeans; that is 1 in 7 jobs. We value immensely the work of all our colleagues who have worked during the COVID pandemic serving our customers, keeping the shelves stocked with the daily essentials consumers need, and adapting to a massive shift to online sales. Yet, we do not take that dedication for granted. We reward people and ensure that they can work safely. In most countries, the employment conditions in our sector are subject to collective agreements, and this has worked well. Active social partnership is a tried formula for managing and building consensus around changes in business and in the jobs people do. We therefore naturally support Commission efforts to promote social dialogue and socioeconomic convergence. But this should go with the grain of what is already in place nationally and be within the boundaries of the EU treaties.”
And while food retailers have been working hard to keep the food supply chain running smoothly, companies and employees in the non-grocery sector have faced restrictions, along with business uncertainty and job insecurity, for almost a year. We are seeking help in EU and national recovery plans to help investment in resilience for all our sector, and in equipping our companies and employees to play a key role in the digital and sustainability transition.
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Reacting to the multinational brand lobby group AIM’s call for an EU market investigation of retail alliances, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren and Independent Retail Europe Director-General Else Groen have issued the following joint statement:
Europe’s retailers and wholesalers operate in a limited number of countries, and in a highly competitive market, with high fixed costs and low margins of 1-3%. Retail Alliances help create efficiencies and synergies in sourcing in the single market when dealing with powerful multinational brand suppliers who operate across the globe and enjoy margins some ten times higher than those of retailers. These suppliers are constantly presenting retailers with price increases bearing little connection to the product or the cost of producing it. Retail alliances also help mitigate the negative impact of territorial supply constraints imposed by large brand suppliers, which fragment the single market and lead to often significant and unjustified price differences across Europe. European retail alliances are all subject to clear governance principles to ensure compliance with EU and national regulation, including competition rules.
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Speaking today at the start of the EU Industry Days, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren stressed the central role of the retail and wholesale ecosystem in supporting and driving economic recovery and Europe’s global competitiveness, but also a sector under immense pressure and in urgent need of help:
“As recognised by the European Commission, retail & wholesale is one of the essential ecosystems and one the worst affected by the COVID pandemic. Private consumption makes up over half of European GDP. As a consequence, the retail and wholesale ecosystem is pivotal to creating markets for the goods and services that many ecosystems produce, and it is crucial for the economic recovery. Yet, much of our sector, with millions of SMEs, is facing imminent bankruptcy and is in need of urgent help to continue and accelerate its digital and green transformation.”