Fabian Demicoli

GRTU submits its views of the setting up of a European Retail Action Plan


Following a commission communication published earlier this
year on the setting up of a European Retail Action Plan, GRTU has submitted a
detailed position paper on the subject to the Ministry for the Economy,
Investment and Small Businesses.

The Commission communication is a result of intensive
work at Brussels level which GRTU was also involved in especially as member of
EuroCommerce and the EESC.

It is a very important communication and a
significant step for retail to be given the importance it deserves. As Europe's biggest private sector employer, retail
has the potential to continue creating new jobs and wealth. The Commission's
Retail Market Monitoring Report (July 2010) recognised the positive role that
retail plays in Europe's economy and identified a number of issues that need to
be addressed in order to allow the sector to realise its full potential thus
contributing to further economic growth and job creation. The European
Parliament's own initiative report, "A more efficient and fairer retail market"
recognised the significance of the sector for jobs and growth and urged the
Commission and the sector to work together to develop an Action Plan to address
outstanding issues. More widely, the Monti report of May 2010 urged the Commission
to tackle remaining obstacles to the creation of a European digital market, to
accelerate infringement procedures, and to adopt better conformity checks.

Retail thrives in Europe, employing around 18 million
people across the EU and accounting for 4.2% of GDP. 20% of Europe's SMEs are
retailers. Retail efficiency keeps prices down for consumers and ensures
choice. However, although the sector is strong and competitive, it could grow
even further, employ more people and provide even better value for consumers if
certain issues were addressed.

GRTU mentioned areas which required improvement as
they still pose a significant obstacle to the expansion of retail. These
included:

–     The full
implementation of the Services Directive

–     Retailers
still do not enjoy full freedom to establish operations in other Member States

–     Europe lags
behind others in creating an efficient digital retail market

–    Retailers
are subject to ever increasing levels of regulation that increase their costs
and extend their liability

A summary of GRTU's reaction to the Communication can
be found below:

1.  Achieving a
single market in the distributive trades: GRTU welcomed the proposal to set up
a permanent Group on Retail Competitiveness (involving Member States,
stakeholders and SMEs) to bring the problems besetting the sector to the fore
in European political debate, identify avenues for development, monitor
progress and prepare recommendations.

2.  Consumer
empowerment: An increase in available information does not equate to an increase
in knowledge, and in fact the opposite is often true. The Commission should
issue guidelines on how best to provide consumers with accessible information
on the features of their products, services and prices in a concise and easily
understandable form.

3.  Better access
to more sustainable and competitive retail services: Competition has forced
retail businesses to deliver better service and become more efficient. It is
imperative that the Commission distinguish between healthy competition between
similar businesses (which drives the pursuit of continual improvements in
quality and efficiency, in the interest of consumers) and other forms of
economic and commercial conflict between businesses.

4.  Developing a
more sustainable retail supply chain: GRTU supports the proposed action 6,
which is aimed at supporting retailers in implementing actions to reduce food
waste and welcomes the decision to adopt a communication on sustainable food in
2013. GRTU also supports action 7, which aims to "make supply chains more
environmentally-friendly and sustainable" by using every means possible to
cut back on energy use and the production of materials which are a source of
pollution.

5.  More
innovative solutions: Recovery in the real economy is partly dependent on innovation
in this sector (action 8) and it is crucial that SMEs have more and easier
access to bank loans so that they can begin innovative projects and activities.

6.  Better
working environment: Matching up skills is essential for improving the quality
of jobs in the sector, which often serves as the way into or back into the
labour market and is not generally seen as an attractive, interesting sector in
which to spend one's entire working life.

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