Moving Boundaries

“We are Asked to Explain our Business a lot more than we Used to”

The results of the European Parliament election are in, and the topics of the next five years are up for debate. An interview with Maria Heider, Director Public Policy Europe at METRO, about the significance of the elections for retail and wholesale, METROs promise to its customers and her hopes in the EU Parliament.

Maria, the ninth direct election of members of the European Parliament took place from 23 to 26 May 2019. What does the election mean for METRO?

METRO does business in 15 EU countries, and its around 80,000 employees look after 9 million customers in the hospitality industry. More than two thirds of our sales are generated in the EU. These figures alone illustrate how significant the European Union and the policies of its institutions are to METRO. And not only to us: the entire retail and wholesale industry and 400 million consumers benefit from the world’s largest internal market, a democratic legal framework and orderly procedures.

 

This sounds as though everything will go smoothly after the elections?

I’m afraid not. We are far from peace and harmony. Very far. From METRO's point of view, it is currently extremely important that all rational, political and economic forces stand up for free trade and free markets worldwide. Over the course of the past years, we witnessed a nationalistic and protectionist roll-back in the EU countries and worldwide. This has been making our work as an EU company incredibly hard. There is plenty of prejudice against companies in general and Corporations, especially. We have found that we are asked to explain our business a lot more than we used to. What is a supply chain? What do you do to protect consumers from counterfeit and adulterated food? How will you stop using excessive amounts of plastic and wasting too much food? How do you ensure fair prices for farmers? We have a lot of work to do within the scope of our corporate public policy. It is on us to explain ourselves over and over again. That is our responsibility as a company: representing our own interests to politicians respectfully and transparently.

When it comes to the race for digital transformation, we want to achieve global success for our 20 million customers from the hospitality industry.

Maria Heider, Director Public Policy Europe at METRO

What developments can the retail industry expect?

Over the next five years, there will be an increased focus on climate protection and energy efficiency, recycling, achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the environmental footprint of production processes, global supply chains and trade agreements. All aspects will be held to high environmental and social standards. Those developments will determine whether Europe can catch up with the rest of the world in terms of digital economy or whether we will be dominated by a small number of non-European internet giants both online and in our global supply chains. It is an exciting process that is extremely important to us and our customers.

How so? How will that impact METRO as a wholesaler?

When it comes to the race for digital transformation, we want to achieve global success for our 20 million customers from the hospitality industry. More than half of those millions of small and micro-enterprises have not digitised their businesses yet. Aside from our responsibility to our customers, we see a political responsibility in this regard: we want to influence the shape of the new economy, digital legislation and consumer rights on behalf of our customers. We want to protect the future of pubs, restaurants and family-run hotels in our cities, towns and villages. They are the guardians of our cultural diversity – our cultural heritage, even.

What I really want is a parliament that listens to us. I want MEPs to take a European approach, think beyond their own regional interests and take their responsibility of reconciling the interests of all parties seriously.

Maria Heider, Director Public Policy Europe at METRO

What demands can the retail and wholesale industry place on the European Parliament, e.g. in terms of legislation and influence on EU policy?

Things will not get easier. The elections have yielded an incredibly fragmented parliament, and I am genuinely worried about how we will achieve any objectively sensible, balanced results in future legislative processes. What I really want is a parliament that listens to us. I want MEPs to take a European approach, think beyond their own regional interests and take their responsibility of reconciling the interests of all parties seriously. Different perspectives and opinions are completely acceptable. They are vital to the survival of any democracy. But we need respectful interaction of equals. Objective discourse with valid arguments. I wish we could all be more respectful in the way we interact with each other, the way we use language at all levels of our societies. But that is another issue altogether.

About ... Maria Heider

Maria Heider joined METRO AG in 2015 as Director of Public Policy Europe. She manages our office in Brussels. Recently, Maria took also over the responsibility for our Berlin office and our German policy. Maria has many years of experience in the Federal Ministry of Finance, the German Parliament and the European Commission. To the website METRO_Politics


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