In her State of the Union speech on 16 September, Commission President von der Leyen said:
“We must tear down the barriers of the Single Market. We must cut red tape. We must step up implementation and enforcement. And we must restore the four freedoms – in full and as fast as possible. The linchpin of this is a fully functioning Schengen area of free movement.”
The Commission has proposed a Council Recommendation (COM(2020) 499) with some helpful ideas on a common approach to dealing with a possible second wave of COVID-19 or future pandemics and avoid piecemeal border closures based on widely differing criteria for assessing risk.
Ahead of the European Council this week, the organisations below call upon Europe’s leaders to agree to establish such a common approach.
We fully support measures to contain the spread of the virus and the need for action by national governments to protect their citizens. However, the actions of some governments in maintaining major restrictions on European citizens moving from other EU member states can often seem haphazard, and ultimately damaging to the European economy. It makes little sense in terms of containing the virus to prevent travel from another member state with a similar level of infection if the member state taking that action still allows travel within its borders.
Speaking today on the UN First International Day on Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gas. Wasting food means wasting all the inputs and work which has gone into producing it. This is bad for people and bad for the planet. Retailers and wholesalers have been active for many years in helping to combat food waste – both in working with suppliers, donating food to those in need, and in informing and supporting consumers. We therefore welcome the profile which the international community is giving today to food loss and waste, and the commitment of all actors in the food supply chain is showing to tackle this issue” .
Retailers and wholesalers are actively participating in a wide range of individual and joint initiatives to reduce food waste significantly by 2030 in line with Sustainable Development Goal 12. Since our sector committed to the Retail Agreement on Waste in 2012, it has drastically reduced food waste in store, and worked to achieve similar reductions throughout their logistics and supply chain. The work of actors in the supply chain in this initiative has led to a set of cross-sectoral recommendations to continue this joint effort.
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Speaking today on the launch of the Commission’s communication on a Retail Payments Strategy for the EU, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“The COVID pandemic has accelerated the existing trend for transactions to go online. At the moment, this inevitably means more use of credit and debit cards. Retailers and other merchants already pay a lot for accepting cards, and even more if a transaction is online. We are seeing, despite very welcome action on some card fees under EU legislation, other unregulated fees rising as much as 150% over the last 18 months. This has cost merchants, already struggling due to COVID, nearly €1 billion extra, and this trend looks likely to continue. We therefore welcome the Commission commitment in today’s communication to promote alternative payment systems. But these will take at least another 2-4 years to roll out, and merchants need urgent action now to address this growing problem.”
Creating a vibrant, competitive and robust European payments market is in everyone’s interest, as well as keeping access open to all alternatives, including cash. We are therefore very pleased to see the Retail Payments Strategy, and recently welcomed the announced collaboration between European banks in the European Payments Initiative. We fully share the Commission’s determination to get competition in retail payments moving through use of instant payment technology such as SCTInst and new applications for mobile payments, already important as people increasingly move to buying goods and services on their mobile phones.
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Speaking today at a virtual conference held by the World Retail Congress, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren set out the challenges facing retail across Europe and the vital role of the sector in supporting European economic recovery:
“Retail has been affected in different ways during the pandemic, but the whole ecosystem will see major change resulting from it. We will see a number of well-known retailers close their doors for ever, with fashion retail particularly hard hit, and others cutting the number of shops and staff they presently have. The pandemic also accelerated the trend towards online sales, and consumers, now used to e-commerce, will use this channel more in future. Private consumption makes up some 60% of EU GDP, and if retail is in trouble, so will the rest of the economy be. Equally, with help in speeding up its already active engagement with digital innovation and sustainability, the retail and wholesale ecosystem can be a powerful driver for getting Europe back on its feet again”.
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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EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren commented on today’s publication of the European Commission “Action Plan to fight against tax evasion and to make taxation simple and easy”:
“After 27 years of the supposedly complete single market, a more harmonised taxation system remains one of its major pieces of unfinished business. It should be the easiest thing in the world to operate a company cross-border in Europe, but, on top of other barriers, a burdensome and fragmented tax bureaucracy makes this a real headache. Many governments have recognised, in the current crisis, that easing tax obligations are vital to supporting and driving economic recovery. If this is true now, it is equally important to address these barriers and burdens on a permanent basis.”
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Ecommerce Europe and EuroCommerce today jointly launched the European Ecommerce Regional Report 2020. Growth in ecommerce sales reached €636 billion in 2019, up by 14.2% from the previous year. European ecommerce turnover is forecast to grow at around 12.7% and to hit €717 billion in 2020. The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector will, however, only show next year.
This report comes out at a time of uncertainty all over the world. The COVID-19 outbreak, and the restrictions it has led to, have had a major impact on business and consumer confidence. While physical shops have maintained supplies of essentials, ecommerce has played a crucial role in maintaining economic activity in Europe. Retailers of all sizes have accelerated their digital transformation, further developing existing and new omnichannel commerce solutions.
Luca Cassetti, Secretary General of Ecommerce Europe, commented: “We are very proud of the resilience our sector has shown these last months and are delighted to see that the ecommerce industry has been successfully contributing to keeping the Single Market open. While the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the strength of the digital commerce sector, it has also exposed the challenges online merchants still come across. Given the increasing cross-border nature of ecommerce, European businesses have struggled to implement new solutions across the Union due to regulatory fragmentation and diverging national approaches towards the crisis. In light of the current acceleration of the digital and green policy agendas, we need to step up our ambitions for building a stronger European Union with a truly harmonized Single Market.”
Christian Verschueren, Director-General of EuroCommerce, commented: “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital change in retail and wholesale. This trend will continue, and to gather further speed. People are now used to buying online, and will continue to do so. Our members are responding to this, but with difficult months - and probably years - ahead, we need urgent help nationally and at EU level to boost resilience and accelerate our sector’s digital transformation.”
To obtain the full version of the report, please visit this website.
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EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren today welcomed the official launch of the new European Payment Initiative (EPI) consortium, to create a new unified payment scheme and solution, allow them to process instant or mobile payments, and set an alternative by-pass the major non-European card schemes.
“A new, fully European, payment scheme, independent of Visa and Mastercard, has been needed for many years in order to provide real competition. This is increasingly important now that merchants are seeing further increases in costs which are not regulated and by the reluctance of the Commission to expand the scope of the current Interchange Fee Regulation to address them. This initiative is therefore most welcome. However, at least four previous initiatives have all failed; this one will as well, if merchants, who are key to its success, are not full participants in the final solution being proposed.”
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Welcoming the updated EU Skills Agenda for Europe published today, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“In our joint statement with our social partner UNI Europa at the height of the COVID crisis, we paid tribute to the millions of people working in our sector and called on national and EU authorities provide financial support in helping our workforce to up- and reskill. We will be looking to the Next Generation EU Recovery Fund, to help the retail and wholesale ecosystem in accelerating its digital and sustainability transformation and bolster its resilience in the face of the damage sustained during the crisis. One in seven Europeans works in retail or wholesale. We will need the European Social Fund and European Globalisation Adjustment Fund to be focused on helping our workforce in weathering these challenges.”
The lockdown due to the pandemic has accelerated and consolidated the shift to online sales. Employees now need to master digital systems and tools, and, in order to attract customers back into stores, to hone their interpersonal skills and the ability to offer informed advice.
Verschueren continues: “People must be equipped with the skills needed to take on new roles due to digitalisation, and to interact with new systems using blockchain and artificial intelligence. But they need also to enhancing their soft skills; retail and wholesale will remain a people’s business. So, it is about combining high tech and high touch.”
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EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren today expressed regret and disappointment that the Commission’s report on the functioning of the Interchange Fee Regulation did not take account of the mounting evidence of massive rises in card fees not covered by EU regulation:
“Nearly 80% of card transactions in Europe are handled by two American companies with global reach. Merchants in retail and wholesale, as well as in hospitality, tourism, and air travel, who have already been hit commercially by COVID-19, have seen these companies raise fees not covered by the Interchange Fee Regulation by some 50%. Over the last 18 months alone this has taken an additional €800 million out of the pockets of merchants, and ultimately consumers. This allows these card schemes to consolidate their position by making competing schemes less attractive to banks. We note that the Commission will continue to monitor the situation and hold a stakeholder meeting at the end of the year. We call upon the Commission to act on the basis of this new evidence, and not wait for even more economic damage to be caused by these two card schemes using their market power to extract further duopoly profits from consumers”.
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Commenting today on the publication of the Commission’s report on the functioning of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“The GDPR is a major EU achievement and a valuable contribution to assuring European citizens that their personal data is being protected and properly used. This is particularly important as we see the digital transformation accelerating. We therefore see no need, only two years after the GDPR came into force, to change it. However, we want to see the Regulation better enforced, and support the Commission in calling for adequate resources for national authorities, and more consistent application of the rules. We also call for more transparency and better involvement of stakeholders in the work of the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) in preparing guidelines consistent with the regulation and important to its proper implementation.”