IN THIS ISSUE - EuroCommerce at November European Parliament Plenary - Commission comes out with useful new VAT proposals - Member States negotiating Council conclusions on trading practices - Council agrees draft text of Geoblocking Regulation -  EuroCommerce finalises its position on EU Accessibility Act - Retailers raise concerns over Strong Customer Authentication for online payments - ECB kicks off plans for instant payments - Commissioner Bienkowska launches initiative on start-up and scale up - SME Envoy Network reports on its work in 2016 - EuroCommerce takes part in launch of the Digital skills and jobs coalition - Ambitious start to new EU Platform on Food Waste - Pressure for EU action to prevent deforestation related to agricultural commodities - EuroCommerce raises issues on trade with Indonesia - Eurofound publishes reports on new forms of employment and fraudulent contracting of work - EuroCommerce in the press - Save the date

Christian Verschueren, Neil McMillan, and Lettemieke Mulder met 13 MEPs in the November plenary session of the EP in Strasbourg. They covered issues surrounding trading practices and agriculture, waste legislation, trade, geoblocking, consumer guarantees and Brexit.  Among those met were Mairead McGuinness (EPP, EI), EP Vice-President and a candidate for Presidency of the Parliament, Vice-President, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (EPP, DE), Internal Market chair Vicky Ford (ECR, UK) and DEVE chair Linda Mc Avan (S&D, UK), as well as several ITRE members, such as Herbert Reul (EPP, DE). They also met a number of rapporteurs and MEPs we had not contacted before. The meetings enabled us to get across clearly the EuroCommerce position on the legislative and policy dossiers being considered, and engage in a useful exchange of views on how the EP might proceed with them.

Contact Neil McMillan

As foreseen in the EU VAT Action Plan launched earlier this year, the European Commission has issued several legislative proposals, aimed at taking into account developments in e-commerce. The proposals, all asked for by EuroCommerce, include an expansion of the VAT Mini-One-Stop Shop to cover tangible goods from 2021, in order to help VAT payments for cross-border sales. The Commission has also announced a threshold of €10,000 in turnover below which companies will be able to handle cross-border sales similarly to those of their home market. Small consignments imported from third countries (currently those with a value of less than €22) will no longer be exempt from VAT. This threshold has favoured direct sales from outside Europe to the detriment of EU traders. Member States will also be entitled to apply reduced VAT rates on e-publications such as e-books and online newspapers. The proposals will have to be adopted unanimously by the Council, which has in the past led to action being blocked. Further legislative initiatives such as specific measures to help SMEs and new rules on reduced VAT rates will be published in 2017. EuroCommerce issued a press release giving an initial welcome to these steps, and pressing Member States to act.

Contact Harald Past

The Slovak Presidency has been pressing senior Member State officials in the Standing Committee on Agriculture, currently preparing the Agriculture Council on 12-13 December, to agree draft Council conclusions on strengthening farmers’ position in the food supply chain. A number of Member States, particularly in Northern Europe and the Netherlands, have expressed opposition to regulating trading practices at EU level. The latest draft still includes a call on the Commission to produce EU legislation, but action by EuroCommerce and our national members has meanwhile brought about some useful changes. These include references to legislation being put in square brackets (reflecting the lack of consensus on the wording), and we encourage our members to reach out further to their national governments to reinforce the argument against EU level regulation. Meanwhile, throughout the autumn, EuroCommerce has worked with other members of the Supply Chain Initiative on responding to Commission recommendations for improving its efficiency. Adjustments being proposed include appointing an independent chair who could act as a recipient of confidential complaints, and stronger relationships with national platforms. This contribution is aimed at being presented to the High Level Forum on a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain on 15 December, which will involve three Commissioners, Member State officials and stakeholders such as EuroCommerce, with a view to easing pressure on the Commission to regulate trading practices with legislation. The EuroCommerce Board will take a final position on these proposed changes on 14 December.

Contact Christel Delberghe

The Council has agreed on the draft Geoblocking Regulation (summary of Council decision here and the text adopted by the Council here). The Regulation allows consumers to browse freely and buy from any website, albeit without imposing an obligation on traders to deliver. EuroCommerce has always supported removing undue discrimination, but has been critical of the lack of legal clarity in the text, in particular concerning the national law which applies to the sale and a range of traders’ obligations. We have intensively lobbied to achieve greater clarity and the Council has taken on board many of our suggestions (in particular concerning payments, no obligation to deliver, after sales-services and related traders’ obligations). However, we will continue to argue for further legal clarity on the criteria for judging a trader as actively targeting consumers in another Member State in selling goods. There has been a large body of national and EU jurisprudence which has interpreted this widely and resulted in some counterintuitive judgments. EuroCommerce is pursuing its discussions with the European Parliament to achieve such clarity and better safeguards for traders. The draft regulation must be jointly agreed by the Parliament and the Council (expected mid-2017). The first draft of the European Parliament’s position is expected on 15 December.  It will be then discussed and amended within the EP’s Internal Market Committee and subsequently in the EP Plenary. This will then lead to a text being negotiated with the Council. EuroCommerce is in regular contact with the key EP stakeholders, including the EP rapporteur, Roza Thun (EPP, PL).

Contact Joanna Lopatowska

The draft EU Accessibility Act requires certain products (for example, computer hardware and software or ATM machines) and services, including e-commerce, to be available for access by disabled people. This could have a significant financial impact on e-commerce websites, and this proposal has been agreed as a EuroCommerce priority for lobbying action and is the subject of a new position paper (here). EuroCommerce shares the proposal’s objective of supporting more active participation by persons with disabilities. We believe, however, that much of this could be better achieved by promoting access to technologies targeted at the needs of the disabled, rather than requiring all products and services in certain categories to be accessible. EuroCommerce will use the arguments in the position paper to continue its lobbying of key decision-makers working on the draft legislation. We have already met all the key MEPs involved, to discuss our concerns and present possible solutions. Morten Løkkegaard MEP (ALDE, DK) is expected to produce the draft EP Internal Market Committee report at the beginning of January. The committee vote is expected in March 2017, with a plenary adoption of amendments later in the year.

Contact Joanna Lopatowska

EuroCommerce has reacted strongly in their response to the consultation on the European Banking Authority (EBA) draft Regulatory Technical Standards (RTS) on Strong Customer Authentication (SCA), arguing that the RTS as proposed were too rigid in seeking to impose SCA on all remote transactions over €10. EuroCommerce, together with other e-commerce associations, has argued for a more flexible, risk-based approach, which has indeed already been proven to work in practice. This should of course go hand-in-hand with ensuring that consumers are fully protected from fraud. This view has been supported by a large number of other business associations, card schemes and payment services providers. A joint letter, supported by some 40 other organisations and expressing major concerns at the EBA proposal, was sent last week to European Commission Financial Services Vice-President Dombrovskis. Please click here for the text of the joint letter.

Contact Peter Robinson

Christian Verschueren, together with Pascal Spittler (IKEA), attended the Euro Retail Payments Board meeting in Frankfurt last week. The meeting approved plans by the European Payments Council to develop instant credit transfers, so that those will be operational across the SEPA in a year’s time. The meeting also looked at aspects of cyber security, the mobile proxy forum, instant payments, work on e-invoices and accessibility for payment users.

Contact Peter Robinson

Commissioner Bienkowska last week launched the start-up and scale-up initiative, one of the flagship measures in the Single Market Strategy. The initiative aims to create a favourable environment for start-ups and other small enterprises to grow faster. To remain consistent with the mainstreaming of SME policy and the implementation of the “Think Small First” principle, the initiative creates one framework for all the various support schemes the EU already offers SMEs in this area, and adds a new focus on venture capital investment, insolvency law and taxation. The Commission intends to help resolve existing barriers to establishment, the shortage of investment and business partners and improves access to finance. EuroCommerce published a press release, welcoming the initiative but stressing the need to address the requirements of all types of SMEs, irrespective of their size and business model.  The SME Interest Group will discuss the communication on 16 December and prepare a more comprehensive EuroCommerce response to it.

Contact Géraldine Verbrugghe

The SME Envoy Network submitted its third annual report to the Competiveness Council last week. National SME Envoys are required to report annually on the state of SMEs in Europe, and on implementation of the Small Business Act. The report gives an overview on how EU SMEs are performing, and the work done by the SME Envoys in 2016 on digitalisation, skills & training, venture capital and entrepreneurship. It also sets out their work programme for 2017. This focuses on intensifying work on start-ups and scale-ups, looking at best practice in family businesses and look at better regulation at national and EU level. To support the Commission in its work, the SME Envoys, with a substantive input from EuroCommerce, have developed a rolling action programme, starting in 2017.

Contact Géraldine Verbrugghe
EuroCommerce launches Jobs and Skills Narrative
We are pleased to present to you our fourth dedicated narrative, covering key issues in jobs and skills for retail and wholesale arising from digitalisation and a fast-changing competitive environment.

Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and share our sustainability story on retailers and wholesalers!

EuroCommerce was last week at the launch of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, a new flagship initiative bringing together all stakeholders and Member States with a view to enhancing digital skills in all parts of European society and economy. EuroCommerce underlined its strong support for the initiative, pointing to the major impact of digital technology and the changes it has brought about in how, where and when consumers buy products (read the press release here). This fed into a need for new skills and flexibility among retail and wholesale employees. The launch conference was attended by European Commission Vice-President Ansip, Commissioners Oettinger and Navracsics, Directors-General from lead departments in the Commission, MEPs, business and social partners and representatives from the education system. EuroCommerce will be closely involved in the Coalition’s activities and initiatives, and seeking to organise a coordinated approach to signing the pledge attached to the initiative.

Contact Ilaria Savoini

At the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste launched last week by European Health and Food Safety Commissioner Andriukaitis last week, EuroCommerce underlined the contribution of retailers and wholesalers to reducing food waste and commitment to sharing and upscaling good practices with other stakeholders. EuroCommerce also welcomed the decision to create two subgroups of the Platform addressing our key priorities of food waste definition & measurement and food donations. We also supported the new digital platform for sharing key data, best practice and developments in tackling food waste. With 240,000 tonnes of food wasted in the EU every day, food waste prevention will remain high on the EU agenda. Commissioner Andriukaitis pointed to the 3 Cs - “Commitment, Creativity and Co-operation” – needed to turn ambitions into reality. EuroCommerce will be holding a dinner debate on 25 January 2017, hosted the by rapporteur for the upcoming EP own-initiative report on food waste, Biljana Borzan (S&D, HR), at which EuroCommerce will launch its report highlighting examples of how the sector works all across Europe to avoid food waste before delivery, in stores and beyond. Separately there is a workshop being held in Hamburg “Sell More, Waste Less” on 19 January - to register, click here.

Contact Lettemieke Mulder or Marina Valverde López

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee is developing a resolution on palm oil-driven deforestation, being drafted by MEP Kateřina Konečná (GUE/NGL, CZ). The EU already has adopted the Timber Regulation (EUTR) and agreements with non-EU timber exporting countries under the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Plan (FLEGT). Among other measures, Konečná has called for a FLEGT type of approach to be used for palm oil, and greater implementation of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification scheme. The Commission will seek to continue to work on making supply chains more sustainable, not only looking at palm oil but also all relevant commodities. EuroCommerce has set up a new working group on Responsible Supply Chain Management, which will be following, and seeking to make an input into these and other policy developments.

Contact Lettemieke Mulder

European retailers and wholesalers are facing substantial trade barriers in Indonesia. In its response to a Commission consultation, EuroCommerce underlined the difficulty our members are facing due to an increasing protectionist tendency in Indonesia. This is evident in the issuing of import licences, and we also observed many technical barriers to trade related to product registration and restrictive food laws. In July, the Council mandated the European Commission to open free trade negotiations with Indonesia. Following on from agreements or negotiations with Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, Indonesia will be the 6th ASEAN country with which the EU will be launching trade negotiations.

Contact Harald Past

The European foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions (Eurofound) has recently published two reports. The first, on “New forms of employment: Developing the potential of strategic employee sharing”, analyses strategic employee sharing and the economic and labour legislation which promote or hinder employee sharing. The report and summary are accessible here. The second report “Exploring the fraudulent contracting of work in the European Union”, looks at fraudulent contracting in the EU, and how national labour inspectorates work to combat fraudulent contracting of work. The research covers the EU28 and Norway, and points to greater potential for using collective bargaining to respond to the challenges, Click here for the report and summary.

Contact Ilaria Savoini
EuroCommerce’s activities in combating protectionism in Central and Eastern Europe was featured by Retail Detail and Het Financieele Dagblad with a focus on problems in the Czech Republic. EuroCommece’s press statement on VAT (here) was picked up in Politico Pro Tech this week.  EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren spoke at the Annual General Meeting of Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Entrepreneurship, and featured in Kathimerini Business. The food waste hearing at the European Parliament, at  which EuroCommerce spoke, was featured in Croatian press (Večernji list). On geoblocking, EuroCommerce was mentioned in CASH and Handelszeitung. EuroCommerce’s lobbying on the F-Gas Regulation was picked up in Caloryfrio. EuroCommerce’s press release on the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition was printed in EU Business. Finally, Lebensmittelzeitung featured EuroCommerce in two articles, one on Strong Customer Authentication and the joint letter sent to the Commission (here) and another on product safety (here).
See our Calendar 

DEC 6 - IMCO Committee
DEC 7 - Supply Chain Committee
DEC 14/15 - EuroCommerce Board, Annual Dinner and General Assembly
DEC 16 - SME Interest Group
JAN 24 - Annual Supply Chain Initiative event
JAN 25 - Dinner Debate on Food Waste, Brussels (by invitation)
This is the last InBrief this year: InBrief will be returning on 17 January 2017.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Should you have any questions or comments, please email Alexandra Simon

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Editor Christian Verschueren +32 2 738 06 40

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