Since the end of November, the European Association for Digital Transition has been doing the ’save your zone’ campaign in the four leading economies of the European Union – Spain, France, Italy and Germany. With this initiative, we are looking to defend nearby stores during a Christmas season that, for many businesses, will decide their survival.
As the campaign video shows, the streets of EU cities are losing their stores. This began with very specific businesses, such as bookstores, and today encompasses virtually all types of activities. That’s why we have written to hundreds of European mayors to request they publicly ask citizens to buy at local businesses. It’s a step that has already been taken by mayors of important cities such as Barcelona, Grenoble and Paris, and more recently, because of our campaign, by José Antonio Díez, the mayor of León.
The problem and its symptoms
As opposed to the deterioration of nearby businesses, the strength of the big e-commerce giants, led by Amazon, just grows and grows. The data is striking. In Spain, for example, one in four nearby shops could close forever as a result of the crisis triggered by the coronavirus, according to data from the Spanish Trade Confederation; to date, the total is already down by 15%. Against this backdrop, Amazon’s stock market value has grown by 75% in the first nine months of the pandemic.
As we have already written various times on this blog, we have nothing against business success, whether it’s Amazon or any other company, technological or otherwise. But when this success starts to be a risk to competition, or has huge social implications – something very similar is happening in other areas with Google and Facebook – it’s necessary to reflect on the path it is leading us down. In the case of business, it’s clear: towards less lively streets, less high-quality employment and less tax revenue, because we already know the ploys used by these companies to pay as little taxes as possible in the European countries in which they so successfully operate.
So in reality, ‘save your zone’ goes far beyond the urban fabric. For us, what’s happening in business is representative of the unwanted effects of a disorderly and unjust digitalization process in which not everyone is competing with the same rules. This uneven playing field, which for tech giants is a red carpet and for others a muddy swamp, is creating a situation in which the commendable efforts of many European companies to digitalize can end up being, in the medium-term, completely useless.
The competition is simply starting to be impossible, and it’s like this because Europeans are not only losing a large part of our nearby urban businesses but also control over our data and our ability to innovate in the digital environment. This is being appropriated by technological giants that have more financial power than many States on the planet.
In this context, committing to local businesses means committing to a digital transition that is fair and united, inclusive and ethical, which does not have to be at odds with being competitive. It’s about a transition that respects basic European standards and values.
This is what is at stake when we support local businesses this Christmas. We must react in this area as well, before it’s too late and our increasingly digitalized societies end up being shaped by the interests and values of others.