Unnecessary legislative barriers are preventing UK retailers opening stores in other EU countries, according to the British Retail Consortium.
It is hosting a debate at the Conservative Party Conference today called “Europe: Love it or loathe it, you can’t ignore it.”
BRC said that while it “firmly believes in a fully open European single market for goods, services and capital”, it wants to see reform in EU countries to make it easier for UK retailers to open stores there.
Restrictions include differing attitudes to sales and promotions. For example, in Belgium, retailers are not allowed to offer discounts of more than 33%. Germany is also “notoriously restrictive on sales promotions”, according to the BRC.
Some member states also impose taxes that specifically discriminate against large retailers.
Restrictive rules on ecommerce means online retailing “has not flourished as it should have”. BRC said online retailers have to comply with the different consumer rights rules in each of the member states where customers are located.
BRC said that conversely, “the UK’s doors are open to foreign investors”, with the UK ranking as the biggest destination for retail investment by far. In the first half of this year a third of the entire total retail investment in the EU happened in the UK.
As a result, UK customers “benefit from Europe’s most competitive retail sector”. BRC added that the UK retail industry employs more people than retailing in any other EU country, despite the UK having only the third biggest population in Europe.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson, who will chair the event today, said: “The UK shows the clear economic and customer benefits that come from a genuinely open market.
“Too many other EU countries just don’t get that. We currently have the disadvantages of a costly regulation machine without the full access to 500 million customers that a proper single market would give.
“I applaud the Commission’s efforts to tackle discriminatory national legislation which makes it harder for UK retailers to invest in other EU countries and denies their customers the benefits.
“At a time when export-led growth is crucial, the Commission needs to work harder to bring down those barriers and other member states must meet their obligations.”