The retail and wholesale services sector is one of the most important in the EU economy and should play an important part in stimulating growth and job creation.
It accounts for 11% of EU GDP and 29% of European SMEs and employs nearly 33 million people, offering job opportunities in particular for young people, women and people with lower skill levels or qualifications. However, a number of barriers remain that hinder the smooth functioning of cross-border sourcing, consumer access to cross-border retail services and market entry for retailers.
Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier said “Retailers play an important role in bringing the Single Market to EU consumers. However barriers to the creation of an efficient and competitive single market in retail remain. This Action Plan sets out a strategy to improve the competitiveness of the retail sector and to enhance the sector’s economic, environmental and social performance." Commissioner Barnier continued: "We also want fair play. Unfair trading practices jeopardise the viability of businesses and make the retail supply chain inefficient. Consumers should have competitive prices but I also want suppliers to retail to receive fair prices for their products.”
The actions in the European Retail Action Plan relate to five key priorities:
Empowering consumers through better information
Improving accessibility to retail services by promoting an exchange of good practices between Member States on commercial and spatial planning
Fairer and more sustainable trading relationships along the food and non-food supply chain
Ensuring a better link between retail and innovation
Creating a better work environment, for example through better matching the needs of employers and staff skills.
The Commission will set up a permanent Group on Retail Competitiveness that will help develop further specific objectives for the areas identified, monitor progress achieved, issue recommendations to ensure full implementation of the actions included in this Plan and, where necessary, will advise the Commission on additional new actions that could be proposed.
One of the main actions is a Green Paper launching a consultation on unfair trading practices in the business-to-business food and non-food supply chain, which has been adopted simultaneously with the Action Plan. The three-month long consultation will help the Commission to assess the magnitude of unfair trading practices and gather evidence on their effect on the economy and on cross-border activity. It will examine the effectiveness of self-regulatory and legislative frameworks put in place to address those practices at national level and will look into the question of whether these divergent approaches may lead to a fragmentation of the Single Market. All interested parties are invited to submit their views in response to the questions raised by the Green Paper by 30 April 2013.
In the specific case of unfair trading practices in the food sector, an Expert Platform on Business to Business Contractual Practices within the High Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain was set up in 2010 to work on providing a solution to this issue. During the meeting of the High Level Forum of December 2012 (see IP/12/1314), a "twin-track approach" to address the problem was announced. The adoption of the Green Paper on business-to-business unfair trading practices in the food and non-food supply chain runs in parallel to the work of this Forum, and the Commission will launch an Impact Assessment analysing several possible options to address these issues, ranging from self-regulation to legislation.
See also MEMO/13/47
The barriers to a single market in retail were identified in the Commission's Retail Market Monitoring Report of July 2010 (see IP/10/885), the European Parliament's Resolution on Towards a more efficient and fairer retail sector of July 2011 and the workshops organised by the Commission with representatives of the main stakeholders during the preparation of the Action Plan.