Forget zoning, corporate chain stores come first

13 February 2018

Forget zoning, corporate chain stores come first

Foto: yooperann
Lobbyists from corporate retail are going to get their way. For years they've been complaining loud and long about the the member states' location policies. You find a nice greenfield site just outside town, and you're not allowed to use it for a major development because of the zoning plan. But that's now going to change. On 30th January the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that retail falls under the EU's freedom of establishment of services rules. Worse still, free movement of services doesn't apply only to cross-border service providers, so that the whole of establishment law as it applies to shops falls under these same rules. Should a local or regional authority seek to preserve open landscapes, The market in services takes precedence. This is the umpteenth example of the unbridled capitalist market for which Brussels stands.

A few years ago I wrote an extensive report on the importance of the retail industry in the EU. Retail is important not only for the employment it provides, but also because shops can contribute to personal security and shopping centres can become places where we meet up with each other. This is on condition that there is a wide range of different kinds of shops. It's small, independent, creative shops which make town centres attractive, and a mix of such shops with quality chain stores is ideal.

Local and regional authorities must therefore have control over where shops are located. A street full of mobile phone outlets isn't all that pleasant, and if rents spiral upwards you'll be left with nothing but the chain stores. And, after these move to the outskirts, as happened in the US some years ago, you're left with empty, desolate town centres, and out-of-town shopping malls. To preserve a lively town centre, you sometime have to intervene, and this will now become more difficult. All of the decisions which these bodies take in relation to this will be seen as a restraint of free movement of services and will have to demonstrate that the intervention was really necessary.

The ECJ's ruling did not fall from the sky. Under pressure from lobbyists, the European Commission has been working for some time on tightening up its policies in this area. The EU must and will become a homogenised mass, a place of boring uniformity, what Dutch people call a 'unity sausage' after the tasteless and unvarying fare available during the war. Across Europe, you can count on finding the same shops. Despite all the fine words about European values, you can see here what the EU really stands for: market, market, market, and in that market the interests of major multinationals come first. I recently explained that according to new EU regulations proposals from local or regional authorities which limit freedom of movement for services must be presented to the European Commission for prior approval. No zoning plan will win such approval if it is judged to overly restrict the right of establishment. Clearly the Commission would rather see a shambolic landscape and dull town centres with monotonous rows of shops, than it would angry lobbyists.

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