State Secretary Pilvi Torsti in Competition and Consumer Day

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment 27.9.2019 16.38 | Published in English on 30.9.2019 at 15.01
Speech

26.9.2019

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Members of the European Competition and Consumer Community,

Good morning to everyone,

It is my great pleasure to be here this morning, on behalf of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the
European Union and representing Timo Harakka, minister of employment, who also is responsible for
competition and consumer issues.

As already mentioned this morning, Competition and Consumer Day is a long standing tradition that the
Finnish Presidency is very happy to embrace.

It is important to advocate competition and consumer policies, as well as raise awareness of these crucially important European policy areas. They can be easily misunderstood and are often clouded by legal
complexities – and I say this as a wife of a lawyer!

Let me start with a story that has always inspired me in competition politics. I am adjunct professor of history by background which means that I always try connect past, present and the future. The story is of workers from a shoe factory from the industrial city of Tampere coming almost 100 years ago to Helsinki to meet the social democratic members of the parliament. The shoe factory had some difficulties at the time and the workers asked their MPs to introduce higher customs for products outside of Finland so that their shoes would be better protected in the market. “Go home and make better shoes” was the answer of the MPs and no changes for customs were promised. This is the attitude: competition should push us to make it better!

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Indeed, the role of competition and the protection of consumers are now more topical than ever.

I firmly believe that vigorous competition is essential for open markets, European competitiveness, and for European societies, consumers and companies. Overall, a dynamic marketplace and vibrant competition are essential elements of a strong European response to the overall challenge of sustainable growth.

It is important to recognise that competition is not an end itself. Instead it is a means to achieve sustainable prosperity and affordable goods and services for consumers in our home market – the Single European Market.

A solid framework for competition policy is a cornerstone of Europe’s approach by which the Single Market can work for the benefit of consumers all over Europe.

The two issue areas to be covered during today’s discussions – sustainability and competition law and digitalization from the consumer perspective – both represent new opportunities and challenges for competition policy and consumer protection.

It is of course both normal and necessary, that policies are regularly assessed in view of new developments in technology and market conditions. It is of vital importance that overall the regulatory framework is kept
in tune with technology and market developments that hugely also effect citizens – the consumers. Smart regulation and its enforcement call for continued attention by us policy makers.

Let me also place these today’s discussions in a wider context which is crucial for the EU – and even more broadly for the whole planet for that matter.

The Finnish Presidency is putting a lot of emphasis on the concept of sustainable growth understanding sustainability to refer to all three elements, the social, the ecological and the economic. The current
European growth model is facing new developments such as climate change, fierce global competition, the rapid development of technologies, polarization of societies and the need for new skills for adapting to technological and societal changes.

All of this calls for a comprehensive, ambitious and forward-looking growth agenda in order for Europe to be more competitive on the global markets, and to ensure that economic growth is sustainable, both environmentally and socially. Europe must be brave to take a lead.

What would this mean in practice? The agenda should be holistic in nature. It should comprise priorities from policy areas such as modern industrial policy, single market, research and innovation, digitalisation, education, skills and the just transition towards a climate-neutral economy.

And I want to stress the phrase just transition here – it is perhaps the most important criteria for transition to be possible and to gain political acceptance from the large public. Just transition to a climate-neutral and carbon free economy requires that we manage to turn the elite project into a matter that concerns all of us. The just transition means that people will not feel threatened by the transition but part of the solution.

Dear all, to forward the agenda we should improve the way in which our home market, the Single Market performs. Europe deserves a better functioning services market and a lot more focus on the enforcement of the Single Market rules. This is Europe’s absolute asset, and we should have the courage to develop it much more ambitiously than what we’ve seen in the last years.                                

We should also better recognize the growing demand for responsible business conduct – and indeed a
focus on the overall “net” impact of businesses on the global welfare. Responsibility has become a megatrend in the business world which is good news in these otherwise in many ways very challenging and unpredictable times. Responsible business conduct is a key ingredient in building trust. So I believe, further ways should be explored to encourage the private sector to play its part in making growth truly sustainable. This is what consumers also increasingly expect when using digital services of various kinds.

Environmental sustainability and competitiveness should go hand in hand in the future. I believe that is to happen and that seems to be the view of many researchers too. The success of
European industries is largely dependent on their ability to embrace new technologies and business models which promote digitalisation and environmentally friendly use of resources, striving for climate neutrality. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that research and innovation are key drivers for better productivity and for reaching climate neutral economy in a just manner.

Attention is also needed to making the EU a global leader in the digital economy and a globally attractive market for digitalization, including for digital services.

Europe’s economy is nothing without people and skills. Therefore, new focus is called for investing in
education, continuous learning, reskilling, upskilling and new skills needed in a digital world. We should be careful here: Europe and Finland must recognize the investments in education done elsewhere – in order for us to maintain our global position we must take more radical position in focusing  education and learning as we have done in the past post financial crisis years. I am happy that our current government just negotiated its first budget deal with significant education and learning investments and our two important reforms include continuous learning model and making the secondary education part of basic compulsory education.

Europe can also – especially under the current conditions in global trade – play an even stronger role in promoting its values such as openness in world trade and a level global playing field. Promoting values and levelled global playing field  can help businesses and industry make full use of global value chains. This requires making better use of the opportunities of the Single Market in order to improve the global competitiveness of European industries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

With an idea to “connect the dots” between the two  topics under discussion today at the Competition and
Consumer Day, let me suggest the following two ideas.                                                                                

First, as far as we talk about sustainability goals and climate neutrality, we should, among other things,
aim at a business environment that stimulates innovation and technology uptake. This is needed to create
a market for cost-efficient sustainable solutions and circular economy business models. Sustainable growth calls for an integrated policy approach with contributions from different relevant policy areas that can
deliver more efficiently than policy measures chosen separately.

To what extent sustainability should be taken into account in the application of competition rules? This is an interesting question, and I look forward getting reports from today’s debate with great interest. Taken that it is the week of the UN Summit and release of the IPCC report on climate change, it is hard to think more topical issue for you.

Second, as regards the digital marketplace, there are understandably many question marks among
consumers around trust and cybersecurity.

In today’s environment, upholding ethics and trust in digital trade should be seen as a competitive edge for European businesses. One of the topical issues is how we govern the use of data at the EU level.

Some important progress has been made in this respect, but more is needed. We would need to set up
European Union guidelines for fair and legal exchange and use of data, providing users with the tools to control their own data and allowing them to access and transfer their data securely to various service
providers. Finland-based Mydata initiative is interesting and important. More generally I believe we are still lacking leadership in data policies and policy-development in many societies – that aspect should also be addressed.

What is also noteworthy is that two issue areas of today are themselves closely connected. Climate-friendly solutions do require extensive digital technologies, and particularly better utilisation of data and artificial intelligence.

Dear Competition and Consumer Day participants,

All in all, the European economic success is in need of more competition, not less. Effective competition is
a must for economic growth and productivity as well as the pathway for European companies to compete successfully, and to become not only European champions but also global leaders.

Strong single market as well as fair and open competition are the cornerstones for the EU’s economic growth and wellbeing. Also, the new industrial strategy should be built on this very crucial principle. Today, effective enforcement of competition and state aid rules is more important than ever.

And for this framework to function in a fair manner, continued action is required to ensure that European citizens can reap the benefits of what our common European wide market can deliver.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European ambition should be no less than aiming to be the world’s most competitive and socially
inclusive climate-neutral economy. Strong competition and smart consumer protection rest at the heart of this ambition.

The Finnish Presidency attaches great importance to competition policy and consumer protection, and warmly welcomes today’s reflections. Let me wish you excellent discussions at our event today! Let us aim to make better shoes also in the future!