Brussels - Together with MEP Dennis de Jong, Independent Retail Europe hosted a very successful lunch event on 26 May. Independent Retail Europe members, EU and national policy makers and selected stakeholders came together for an open exchange on ways of boosting independent retail competitiveness.
Context of the debate was the European Retail Action Plan by the Commission and MEP de Jong’s follow-up report actors” and his recommendations for the support for independent retailers. In his opening remarks, Independent Retail Europe President Ralf Gerking reminded participants of the importance of independent retailers: “They bring entrepreneurship, consumer choice and local development. They bring liveliness and variety in city centres and villages. Independent SME retailers – ‘traditional retailers’- should therefore be high on every European policy makers’ agenda at EU, national and local level.”
To set the scene on EU level, Claire Bury, Director of Services at the Directorate General for Internal Market, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW) outlined the activities of the European Commission since the adoption of de Jong’s report in December 2013. She sees the new Internal Market objectives as bringing a lot of opportunities for E-Commerce (outlined in the recently published Digital Market Strategy) but also for the offline world (outlined in the new Internal Market Strategy, to be published after summer). She mentioned that the Commission intends to carry out a study into traditional retail. Independent Retail Europe Board Member Anne Leppälä-Nilsson (KESKO), Chair of the SME sub-group of the High Level Group on Retail Competitiveness, reported on the sub-group’s activities and goals: “The members of the SME sub-group agree that SME retailers should have the same possibilities to cooperate as the stores that are part of an integrated chain. This is very important in the e-commerce context. Independent retailers should be able to outsource their e-commerce operation, including pricing to the headquarters of their group”. Leppälä-Nilsson continued by arguing: “When drafting or refitting a piece of legislation, make sure that retail SMEs are consulted; Keep it simple.”
During the next session of the event, the local level, Graham Russel, Chief Executive of the Better Regulation Delivery Office, UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills, explained the exemplary Primary Authority initiative. Under this scheme, businesses are able to enter a partnership of mutual advice and support with a local authority regulator of their choice, on which they can also rely when encountering a challenge from other enforcement authorities. This initiative is a way of driving certainty and consistency as well as a connection between businesses and the regulatory system. Please click here for a video on the Primary Authority scheme and here for the Primary Authority and Growth booklet.
According to James Lowman from our UK member ACS, the Association of Convenience Stores, the Primary Authority initiative made life much easier for independent retailers in the UK. Together with local authorities and as part of the scheme, ACS has developed practical ACS Assured Advice guides.
Afterwards participants had the opportunity for an active exchange with the speakers. In the context of the Digital Single Market, Dr Ludwig Veltmann from our German member federation DER MITTELSTANDSVERBUND-ZGV took up one of the points made by Anne Leppälä-Nilsson and highlighted the need to revise resale price maintenance (RPM) rules for groups of independent retailers. He presented two local initiatives for retail competitiveness that were taking place in Germany: Since April, the German Ministry for the Economy and Energy has hosted the Dialogplattform Einzelhandel (“Retail Dialogue Platform”) in the form of several workshops. DER MITTELSTANDSVERBUND is on the advisory board of the initiative and actively participates in the workshops in order to influence the future legislative framework for entrepreneurs in a positive manner. The joint project “Buy local”, is a join initiative aimed at raising consumer awareness.
Antoine Bertrand, Policy Officer at the Competitiveness and Innovation Department for the Walloon Public administration in Belgium, explained their activities on the Walloon Small Business Act. (For more information: Video “Le Small Business Act wallon” (English subtitles available) / Rapport annuel de l’Envoyé PME wallon 2013-2014 (Full French version) / The “2013-2014 Walloon SME Envoy’s Report” (English Abstract)). Patricia Hoogstraaten, Secretary General at the International Federation of Grocers’ Associations (IFGA), mentioned a Dutch pilot project whereby local regulations for retailers would temporarily not apply.
Participants and speakers alike were very keen to learn from each other and find ways to improve independent retail competitiveness. Jonathan Stoodley, Head of Unit for Regulatory Fitness and Performance at the Commission Secretariat General, was especially interested in seeing the Commission’s Better Regulation Agenda exemplified in these local initiatives. All in all, policy makers were very open to our concerns and encouraged future cooperation in this area.
In case of additional questions, please contact:
Elisabeth von Reitzenstein
Adviser Public Affairs
Tel. : + 32 2 739 60 91