Dear Commissioner Oettinger,
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Representatives of the European Commission and the Member States,
Dear colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my honour to welcome you on behalf of METRO GROUP, together with the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries and the European Movement International, to our 6th Brussels Wednesday Social in the Solvay Library, right in the heart of Europe.
I am especially honoured to welcome Mr Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, as our guest speaker today.
Our topic this evening is:
"Can the Digital Single Market re-connect citizens with Europe?"
The creation of a digital single market, as well as the safeguarding of a common future for Europe are of crucial importance for our society as a whole, not least for an international company such as METRO GROUP.
I would like to express my cordial thanks to you, Commissioner Oettinger, for being here with us tonight (Applause).
There is no doubt that the future of our society and economy is digital. The digital revolution has already begun and Europe not only needs to embrace it, but also needs to play an active role in shaping it. This is of vital importance in order to maintain a leading position in the global economy. With 500 million people, the European Single Market is the world’s largest market and a foundation pillar of the EU.
Trade takes a decisive role in the implementation of the digital single market. Indeed, retail as well as wholesale and the food industry are somewhat comparable to the Internet and digitalisation – we have always been building bridges between countries, cultures and markets – we connect people, goods, ideas and services with each other.
Retail as well as wholesale and the food industry are among the most important economic sectors in Europe. We provide jobs for 29 million people and account for 10% of the EU’s GDP. METRO GROUP is present in 18 of the 28 Member States. In the EU we employ some 165,000 people and every day we have millions of direct exchanges with our customers.
And it is based on this experience that we are convinced that current European challenges require European solutions
Paradoxically, in the digital age, when borders are becoming increasingly blurred, nationalist and protectionist tendencies from past times are looming again. The result of the Brexit referendum in the UK is not the only example of such developments, but a very representative one. Other challenges that Europe is currently facing are well known to all of us: The still ongoing economic crisis in southern Europe, the consequences of the refugee crisis, the terrorist threat, which hit us particularly hard again this year – also here in Brussels... In this climate of uncertainty many citizens have turned their back on Europe and look at their national governments for answers – for answers that actually require a European solution.
We are convinced that the solution for these crises can only be found at the European level and that the future of Europe will be decided to a significant degree in the digital field. We, therefore, consider the digital transformation of Europe as an opportunity to bring the EU back to a common path towards growth, prosperity and cohesion.
We are also convinced that the economy has to be THE driver of innovation for the digital single market
The retail as well as wholesale sector and the food industry contribute to the realisation of the digital single market, not only by connecting markets and people, but also – and decisively – through innovation.
In 2013 the METRO GROUP created a new unit "Business Innovation", which identifies, develops and implements innovative products and solutions not only for METRO, but also for our customers. For example, to support the digitalisation efforts of our customers in the catering and hospitality sector, we have set up the “Techstars METRO Accelerator”, a support programme for start-ups that provide innovative digital solutions for the hotel, gastronomy and catering industry. This autumn, ten start-ups from all across Europe as well as from Canada, Israel and Australia are participating in the 2nd round of the programme.
The digital revolution in our sector does not stop at the shop-door or at the retailer’s website. Studies show that Internet access is more equally distributed than income - globally as well as in the EU. It could bridge the gap between rural and urban areas; it could help to overcome structural disparities among the regions of Europe – but to leverage its potential for growth and jobs, more investment in infrastructure as well as in skills is not enough.
Decisive courage for freedom and self-responsibility is needed on top.
Europe will lose any potential for competitiveness in the digitalised world against global companies like google, amazon or facebook if we do not have the courage to give our people and our consumers more freedom and responsibility!
Finally, we as METRO will continue to be a responsible partner for independent business & politics – also in the digital age
The Internet and new digital technologies have fundamentally changed the world of retail and wholesale. Nevertheless, one principle will continue to apply: We want to support our customers with innovative ideas, with special services and with all our experience. Our main focus was and will be to support the small and medium sized independent businesses and to contribute to their success. They are job and growth drivers, innovation drivers as well as cultural drivers in our society. Making them successful is an honour for us and a sustainable basis of our economic success.
Last but not least, METRO GROUP wants to remain a competent partner for decision-makers in political as well as social discussions; drive innovation as well as cultural and democratic principles; and do this in a very transparent and open-minded manner.
So I am very proud to announce to you today’s launch of our METRO EU Digital Office here in Brussels. Following the example of the Berlin “digital capital office” we are fully committed to the concept of "responsible lobbying" and will publish on our website information on our positions, goals and activities at EU level. And we invite you for dialogue – on the website as well as on Twitter. We thank you for the comments you sent online ahead of this evening to the thesis of Commissioner Oettinger and I hope you will also comment this evening to the wider audience out there by using the hashtag METRO Wednesday Social Brussels- #WSBRU.
Our moderator Detlev Fechtner from Börsenzeitung will be happy to refer to your comments and questions also during the discussion afterwards.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I now look forward to Commissioner Oettinger’s keynote speech and a lively political discussion - as well as to some culinary delights afterwards - with you here in the heart of Europe.
Mr. Oettinger, the floor is yours. Thank you very much.