EuroCommerce InBrief | Issue 187 |  31 March 2020

Ohessa ajankohtaista tietoa EuroCommercen uutiskirjeestä lainattuna:

EuroCommerce active in pushing for measures to help retail and wholesale keep Europe’s citizens supplied

Since our last InBrief, the COVID-19 virus has taken a firmer hold across Europe, and national governments have shut down much of the economy and virtually closed many borders. EuroCommerce has been actively lobbying for keeping goods flowing freely and removing barriers to our members’ ability to provide Europe’s citizens with the essential things they need. Many members will have seen the initiatives we have taken, but here is a brief overview with links to these. On 16 March, we pressed the Commission to deal with long queues at the borders, to allow retail and wholesale workers living in one country and working in another to cross freely, and to look favourably on retailers cooperating in order to ensure deliveries of food in case the situation required it. The Commission has issued guidance, agreed by heads of government, to create green lanes for lorries and allow cross-border workers free passage, and the Network of European Competition Authorities has issued guidanceagreed with the Commission that, under strict conditions, such cooperation would be allowed. On 18 March we highlighted the major problems facing non-food retailers – forced closures and where allowed to stay open, major falls in sale, with both facing a risk of widespread bankruptcies. On 26 March, we issued a joint statement with FoodDrink Europe and farmers’ representatives Copa-Cogeca to underline the essential role all actors in the food chain were playing in keeping Europe fed. On 27 March we sent a joint letter with Independent Retail Europe to underline the massive pressures our sector is under, and asking for the Commission to defer consultations, implementations and enforcement of regulations imposing major burdens on our sector. Commissioner Breton last week announced (LINK) that the Commission would delay consultations and launch of a number of proposals foreseen in the Commission’s 2020 Work Programme.

Contact: Neil McMillan

EuroCommerce establishes hotline with Commission on single market blockages during crisis

EuroCommerce has established a hotline with DG GROW for reporting and solving any problems which retailers and wholesalers are facing during the COVID-19 crisis, with a focus is on single market blockages including but also more widely than free movement, and on supply chain shortages. DG GROW has undertaken to immediately follow up on problems notified by individual businesses or associations and will liaise where necessary with other parts of the Commission services. These will contact Member State authorities to seek to resolve the issue at once. For example, a company with lorries stuck at a border crossing due to excessive checks of products, health, or impeding free passage of drivers will be able to ask us to contact DG GROW and expect them and other DGs to act. They will also act where members see supply chain shortages (of products or raw materials) due to Member States’ crisis policies. Ilya Bruggeman will be the main contact for the hotline, and will be happy to receive members’ calls where they are facing such problems.

Contact: Ilya Bruggeman

Commission imposes export restrictions for medical protective equipment

The European Commission imposed an EU-wide export ban covering some medical protective equipment in a bid to keep sufficient supplies within the EU. Exports to non-EU countries are now subject to authorisation by individual Member State governments. The implementing act covering this came into force on 15 March and will be valid for a six-week period. In separate guidelines, the Commission exempted EFTA Countries (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland), Andorra, the Faroe Islands, San Marino and the Vatican, as well as the UK from the ban. Associated countries and territories with “special relations” to Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the U.K. will also be exempt. At the same time, the Commission is moving to ensure that medical equipment continues to circulate within the EU. France, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic and Romania had imposed national export bans on personal protective equipment and faced infringement proceedings. All except from Romania have eased their national export bans. Last week, the G20, concerned at the growing list of countries banning such exports agreed an albeit very limited statement that “Consistent with the needs of our citizens, we will work to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders, and work to resolve disruptions to the global supply chains, to support the health and well-being of all people.”

Contact: Harald Past or Jürgen Lang

European Data Protection Board (EDPB) statement on the processing of personal data during the spread of COVID-19

With a growing number of European governments calling on telecoms companies to hand over location data to help halt the spread of the coronavirus, the European Data Protection Board has provided a statement on what to consider when sharing data, emphasising the importance of respecting rules laid down in the GDPR. According to the statement, EDPB will approve the use of telecoms data if the data is anonymised. It is however uncertain how far anonymising such location data is possible in practice. Governments using non-anonymous data must either ask for data subjects’ consent or turn to passing new legislation. According to the existing e-Privacy Directive, governments can introduce legislative measures if there is a need to safeguard public safety. But importantly, the EDPB states that such exceptional legislation is only possible if it can be shown to be necessary, is appropriate, and a proportionate measure within a democratic society.

Contact: Ena salihovic

Legal study on European Retail Alliances finalised

Following a discussion in the alliances steering group earlier this month, the legal study on European alliances is now finalised and has been sent to the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). The study provides a competition law assessment of European alliances of retailers and wholesalers active in the agricultural and food supply chain. It includes concerns that raised at the DG AGRI workshop of November 2019. The legal study comes together with a review of economic literature that was finalised in February. We are now working on communications material following the communication workshop in February, including a toolbox of joint messages and a narrative that will complement the slide deck presented in November. The JRC is expected to release their report before Easter. The studies and communication plan will serve as a basis for future work following the release of this report.

Contact: Christel Delberghe or Katinka Worsoe

Commission names new heads of Internal Market and Industry and Agriculture

Last week, the Commission announced the appointment of Wolfgang Burtscher as Director-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) and Kerstin Jorna as Director-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (GROW). Both will take up their posts from 1 April. Burtscher is an Austrian national, and studied law in Austria and France. Before joining the Commission in 2000, he worked in regional government in Austria and representing Austrian regions in Brussels. He has been a Director in DG Agriculture, and since 2009 up to the present, Deputy Director-General of DG RTD. Kerstin Jorna is German, and studied law in Germany and at the College of Europe in Bruges. She joined the DG for lnternal Market (MARKT) and later as director in DG GROW, including dealing with free movement of goods, and worked closely with us on a number of issues. She was also member of four Commissioners’ cabinets, and later Head of Cabinet for Michel Barnier as Internal Market Commissioner and the late Jacques Barrot, when he was Vice-President for Justice and Home Affairs. Since 2016, she has been Deputy Director-General of the Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs (ECFIN).

Contact: Neil McMillan

Review of Geoblocking, GDPR and the upcoming public consultation on Digital Services Act postponed

The European Commission is postponing several initiatives. These include the review report on the Geoblocking Regulation, originally scheduled for 23 March. This is now postponed for at least some weeks. The public consultations on the Digital Services Act (DSA) scheduled for the end of March will also be delayed, with no new date set at present. The long-anticipated report on the working of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) scheduled for 24 May will not appear before sometime in June. The Commission’s Vice President for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourova, was originally scheduled to present the report with a Commission communication on aligning national data protection enforcement rules. It looks likely, but not yet confirmed, that the Commission will also slow down the ongoing public consultations on the AI White Paper and Data Strategy.

Contact: Ena salihovic

EU-UK post-Brexit trade negotiations slowed by virus

As EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was tested positive for COVID-19 and his British counterpart David Frost is self-isolating after showing mild symptoms, the post-Brexit negotiation set to resume last week was suspended. The joint EU-UK committee held a short meeting yesterday by video link, but with the UK now stating that it wishes to reopen elements of the agreement on N. Ireland, how the negotiations will be completed before the end of the Brexit transition period in December looks increasingly uncertain, heightening the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. A decision on whether to ask for an extension of up to two years must be made by July, but Prime Minister Johnson insists that this will not happen.

Contact: Harald Past or Jürgen Lang

Commission starts revision process on the Waste Shipment Regulation

The Commission’s recent Circular Economy Action Plan foresees a revision of the Waste Shipment Regulation in 2021. The Commission has now started the first phase of this process with an Inception Impact Assessment. The Commission has said in its roadmap published earlier that the revision will aim to create rules on waste shipments to boost recycling in the EU and create a smooth-functioning EU market for waste for recycling or re-use, while restricting harmful exports of waste and illegal shipments through better controls and more cooperation among enforcement authorities. The first of these goals is in line with the demand we included a joint industry letter underline the need for a proper market for waste was essential to creating more circular business models in retail and wholesale. EuroCommerce is preparing a reply to the Inception Impact Assessment supporting this approach and will be making an active input to the planned public consultation on the revision of the regulation later this year.

Contact: Nick Dornheim

Council (finally) ratifies EU-Vietnam trade agreement

After many delays, the Council yesterday formally ratified the free trade agreement with Vietnam in a written procedure. The decision, originally set for 12 March but delayed because of the COVID-19 crisis, is the last formal hurdle on the EU side for agreement to come into force, which will happen in the early summer, once the Vietnamese National Assembly also ratifies it, likely in the second week of May. The agreement will eliminate virtually all customs duties on exports to and from Vietnam over the next decade, with 65 percent of EU products and 71 percent of exports from Vietnam enjoying duty-free access from day one. The parallel investment agreement will need to be ratified separately by all EU governments and parliaments before it can also enter into force. EuroCommerce was actively engaged in a coalition over the last 6 months with other major European associations to push for swift ratification.

Contact: Harald Past or Jürgen Lang

Digitalisation again main focus of new work programme with UNI Europa

European social partners in the retail and wholesale sector, EuroCommerce and UNI Europa, have renewed their ongoing cooperation, which dates back to 1993, and agreed a new Social Dialogue Work Program for 2020-2021. This keeps a strong focus on digital topics, such as digital skills and the future of work. The social partners will continue their dialogue based on facts and examples of best practice, which has acted to create a positive agenda of cooperation on how jobs will look in a digitalised economy. It now includes exchanging best practice on digital technologies for health and safety, based in part on good examples by social partners in the Nordic countries. It will also cover a new action on promoting voluntary social partner capacity-building in Central and Eastern Europe. Better social partnership in these countries may also help curb Commission enthusiasm for far-reaching social affairs legislation, on e.g. minimum wages or the EU Pillar of Social Rights. Finally, we agreed to focus more effort on the competitiveness of the sector, with the prospect of moving towards collective lobbying efforts on key EU legislation relating, for example to the single market and supply chain.

Contact: Christiaan Boiten