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Brussels bids to revive Europe's city centres

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Brussels bids to revive Europe's city centres

Shopping centre Villach, Austria - Photo by Bmaric

(BRUSSELS) - The EU Commission published a set of best practices for the retail sector Thursday in a bid to revive city centres and increase innovation and competitiveness in one of the EU economy's biggest sectors.

Almost one in ten people work in over 3.6 million retail companies, in a sector which is changing rapidly with the development of e-commerce and multi-channel retailing. The Commission says it has the potential to perform better, and its new Communication is aimed at helping EU Member States and operators to overcome the current challenges by addressing an accumulation of restrictions in the retail sector.

"The future of the European retail sector – and our economy at large – depends on its ability to develop innovative business models and maximise new opportunities such as e-commerce," said the Commissioner for Internal Market Elzbieta Bienkowska: "This requires a favourable business environment. That is why we are offering advice to Member States on how best to apply EU rules and follow the example of tried-and-tested reforms in other EU countries."

In its Communication, the Commission highlights the main areas where it thinks EU Member States can make further progress:

  • Facilitating retail establishment: The rapid setting up of a new shop is crucial for retailers to access the market, thereby fostering productivity and innovation. By improving compliance with the Services Directive, Member States can make establishment easier without putting at risk public policy interests, such as town and country planning, protection of the environment and consumers. National, regional and local authorities are encouraged to reduce undue or disproportionate burdens, making retail establishment procedures simpler, shorter and more transparent.
  • Reducing restrictions to daily operations of shops: These may become a significant burden for businesses and affect their productivity, which is why the Commission has identified best practices on sales promotions and discounts, specific sales channels, shop opening hours, retail specific taxes, purchasing of products in other Member States and contractual practices of modern retail. The aim is to ensure a level playing field in retail as well as fair and efficient supply chains, while not restricting the freedom to pursue justified public policy objectives.
  • Adopting new approaches to promote vitality of city centres: The Commission has also published today a guide on fostering the revitalisation and modernisation of the small retail sector. The guide gives public authorities practical suggestions on how to help small retailers embrace technological change and meet the challenges of the future. Each solution is underpinned by practical real-life examples, gathered from best practices across the EU, which can be transferred to the local setting. The guide identifies success stories from which Member States can draw inspiration for example, on how to build retail communities to help bring consumers to city-centres.

Additionally, the Retail Restrictiveness Indicator (RRI) provides a useful snapshot of the state of play of retail in Member States. It helps to identify best practices as well as areas for possible reforms. The RRI is also a dynamic monitoring tool to measure Member States' efforts in reducing retail restrictions and the impact of such reforms on market performance including productivity, prices and innovation, as well as spill-over effects on other sectors.

In addition to today's guidance for Member States' reforms and priority-setting for enforcement policy in the retail sector, the Commission says it will continue to monitor the evolution of the relevant regulatory frameworks and economic trends.

A stronger and more competitive European retail 
sector - background guide

Communication on a European retail sector fit for the 21st century

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