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.
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.
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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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.”
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Commenting on the launch today of the EU Trade Policy Review, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
”The COVID pandemic and restrictions arising from it have hit many businesses hard over the past 12 months and also hit international trade. The Commission review of the EU’s trade policy is a welcome step to reinforce the measures the EU and governments have taken to boost the economic recovery. Open markets in Europe and outside will be a powerful driver for the EU economy to pick up again.”
Retailers and wholesalers rely to open markets to ensure that consumers have access to a wide choice of the products they need. We therefore support the concept of “open strategic autonomy” but will be pressing the need to ensure that this does not lose sight of the “open” part of the approach. Global value chains are a reality and key to European competitiveness, and trade has made a massive difference to the lives of many millions of people across the globe. The COVID-19 crisis has shown the need for reliable supply chains, particularly for sensitive products. But it has equally shown that this is best achieved by diversifying, rather than restricting, sources of supply.
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Speaking today about decisions in some EU countries to close a number of their borders, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“Retailers and wholesalers rely on many thousands of suppliers across Europe to ensure that Europe’s consumers can have the daily essentials they need. We have consistently lived up to that obligation all through the COVID pandemic. We also fully support all measures necessary to stop the spread of the virus and its new variants. But this can be done without making border crossing impossible for lorries carrying the goods consumers need. We therefore wish to remind all member states of the real problems which arose for goods traffic and cross-border workers last year when borders were closed, and of the important guidelines the Commission issued to resolve those problems. We all want people to be safe, but also able to have the things they need to help them have as normal a life as the present - abnormal - circumstances allow.”
The first wave of the pandemic last year sparked off a series of border closures which member states believed would help stem the spread of the COVID virus. In doing so, they initially gave little thought to the impact of such closures on cross-border flows of goods which consumers and industry needed to have available every day. They also prevented many thousands of workers living one side of the border from getting to their workplaces on the other side. The Commission acted quickly to issue harmonised guidelines which set up ‘green lanes’ for goods traffic and special arrangements for cross-border workers. Those are still valid and vital in the second wave we are experiencing now. We are therefore asking member states, not least those which also act as transit routes for exports from other EU countries, to adhere to those guidelines, and adopt proportionate measures to keep their citizens safe while not unduly hindering the flow of goods and cross-border workers within the single market.
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Noting the European Parliament’s adoption today of the own initiative report drafted by Jan Huitema MEP (Renew, NL) on the Circular Economy Action Plan, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren underlined the retail and wholesale sector’s commitment to the circular economy and the important role which Eco-design can play in this:
“Our sector has already shown its readiness to undertake a wide range of measures to reduce the environmental impact of how it does business and of the products it sells. The report from Jan Huitema makes an important point – that we need to address circularity in a holistic manner. Research shows that 80% of the environmental performance of a product can be achieved at the design phase. The proposal to review the Eco-design directive is important in providing the right framework for sustainable consumption, and likely to be more effective than rather less well-defined and less easily achievable targets for reducing overall levels of consumption.”
Retailers and wholesalers have been active advocates and drivers of sustainability and circularity. We believe strongly that the transformation of Europe’s economy to become more circular needs a major change in the way all stakeholders think and act, and above all, how they work together, whether in industry, distribution, consumers or in governments. Our sector is more than ready to do its bit, but this will only work if it is in concert with the whole supply chain and within a regulatory framework which facilitates the steps needed to achieve a circular economy.
Services Directive: a comprehensive report on its application under Article 41 - Joint Letter to DG GROWRead more
BUSINESSEUROPE, EUROCHAMBRES and EUROCOMMERCE have been consistently stressing the importance of the services sector to the EU economy, businesses and consumers alike. Economic activity in Europe remains disproportionately hit by Covid-19, and the service sector will be crucial to accelerating Europe’s recovery.
The overall post-2019 contribution to the EU economy from services is estimated at €389bn or 2.28% of EU GDP, and a further €284bn of gains would be possible under full implementation of the Services Directive*. The growing trend for EU industry to offer substantial services alongside their products and use services as input also provides a major opportunity to both service providers and industry: services generate 27% of the value added in EU manufacturing compared to 20% in the US; yet our productivity in services is only around half that of the US level**. It is therefore clear that significant growth potential remains untapped as long as there is no free movement of services in the EU.
The European Commission’s Long-term Action Plan for Implementation and Enforcement of Single Market Rules partly acknowledged the current situation with the measures on services it foresees. However, a difficult political debate caused a set-back to the agenda on services as the Commission was forced to withdraw the remainder of the 2017 Services Package.
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Welcoming the launch of a Commission investigation into a new case of possible blocking of parallel imports by a food manufacturer, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“While not wishing to preempt the outcome of this particular investigation, we are happy to see the Commission taking further action on territorial supply constraints. This is an issue we have been flagging for many years and whose impact – a cost to European consumers in the magnitude of €14 billion - was confirmed in the Commission study released last November. Brand manufacturers fragment the single market to maintain artificial price differences across Europe. This means consumers paying more, and the efficiencies, which the single market is there to achieve, being undermined. At a time when the European economy needs all the help it can to recover, this is not the right way to go. That is why we are asking the Commission to find a lasting solution to allow the single market to work for sourcing.”
Strengthening sectoral social dialogue in the services industry: The all-important role of social partners in building a resilient Europe.Read more
The origin of European social dialogue lies in the EU’s decision to address social and economic issues arising from the creation of an EU single market through discussions between representatives of employers and workers (Art. 154f). Social dialogue has been the cornerstone of the social dimension of the single market.
The services sectors, that we represent, are the backbone of Europe’s economy. They underpin both growth and job creation, as well as Europe’s competitiveness in the world. Our social dialogues are key instruments for developing both quality services and jobs. At the same time, technological advances, such as digitalisation, have led to significant changes in the services sectors, resulting in possible overlaps between some European sectoral social dialogues.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the services’ sectors have proven their importance and enabled our economies and societies to keep going. At European level, sectoral social dialogue of the services sectors has provided the framework for the discussion and adoption of joint statements, recommendations, and guidelines and proved to be an essential channel to communicate sectoral needs to the European institutions. Services’ social partners emphasised the importance of a constructive sectoral social dialogue. Sectoral social dialogue was instrumental in engaging common discussions in the sectors on the consequences for the ‘after Covid-19’ world of work as well as the requirements for recovery.
Our initiative to discuss common challenges among the European sectoral social partners from the services sectors complements our respective social dialogues’ endeavours. We welcome the opportunity to highlight the importance of European sectoral social dialogue and look forward to exchanging further on how to strengthen it during these critical times.
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The below signatories call for the immediate setting up of a hospitality task force across the EU Institutions to discuss the impact that COVID-19 has had on business and jobs and deliver a road map for the recovery of the hospitality sector and its value chain.
COVID-19 has hit Europe hard, taking thousands of lives, destroying families and impacting the health of many more people. We would like to first and foremost commend the hard work and diligence of Europe’s health and frontline workers, who have proven themselves the true heroes of this crisis. We wish to express our heartfelt sympathy to all those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The arrival and distribution of successful vaccines gives us hope for 2021 and a successful recovery.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also hit livelihoods and businesses hard, throwing Europe’s restaurants, bars, hotels, cafés, pubs and nightclubs into a deep crisis. The hospitality sector has been among the hardest hit, with businesses being forced to shut down at short notice as part of the collective fight against the virus and many workers being laid off temporarily or definitely.
It has led to a dramatic knock-on effect on its suppliers. Many actors in the food supply chain such as farmers, processors, traders, wholesalers, and food and drinks manufacturers face severe hardship. Many of these sectors are primarily made up of SMEs and these businesses are intrinsic to the functioning of the hospitality sector.
We turn towards 2021 with the core objective of creating some predictability for the hospitality sector and its supply chain, through a safe, timely and sustainable reopening as soon as the economy starts to open up again.
These hospitality businesses are part of the European social and economic fabric, bringing diversity and vitality to city centres, rural communities, villages and tourist areas across Europe. Bars, restaurants and cafés help attract people to town centre shopping districts and, likewise, these shopping destinations help bring custom to town centre hospitality venues. This is part of the European way of life, combining tourism, high quality food, services and culture.
Retailers and wholesalers working hard for sustainability, ready to work with all in a code of conductRead more
EuroCommerce, Euro Coop, and Independent Retail Europe today joined Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, senior MEPs and other stakeholders at an event to launch work on a code of conduct under the Farm to Fork strategy.
Retailers and wholesalers of all sizes have been in the forefront of increasing the sustainability of the products they offer. They have launched initiatives all over Europe to drive and support sustainable production and consumption by working with their suppliers, supporting farmers in moving to organic and other sustainable production methods, and innovating in offerings to consumers, including via their own brands. Retailers’ doors are open to everyone, allowing daily engagement with, and scrutiny by, consumers. The direct interface between suppliers and consumers which our sector provides offers new and rewarding market opportunities for all producers of sustainable products and can help nudge consumers towards buying them. The scale which our sector can offer to producers can also allow a wider public to buy high quality, healthy food at an affordable price.