First Euroconsumers International Forum: Collaboration, Trust, and Interoperability: unleashing the digital ecosystem

Euroconsumers held its First International Forum on 12 November, in Brussels.

Powering a pragmatic modern dialogue, the Forum – Bridging the Gap between consumers and Businesses in the Digital Age – brought together more than 45 speakers, all high-level representatives of European institutions, leading global companies, consumer organisations, and academia from around the world. An innovative format saw them interact with a public of more than 120 people from the same sectors, with simultaneous activities on 3 different stages.

The Forum initiated a dialogue between consumers, businesses and policymakers, on burning issues, from data security and fake news to AI, fundamental rights and empowerment, technological sovereignty, greening technology, smart transport solutions, digital platforms and the fairer sharing of the economic benefits of digital technology.

The Euroconsumers Forum embodied a paradigm shift that acknowledges the changing role of the consumer in the digital era. No longer weak subjects solely in need of protection, consumers are now the drivers of development and new digital markets in which they disclose their personal data.

1st outcome: the need and the willingness to collaborate

The main subject of the event was to initiate the dialogue. Eurocosumers was really pleased to see that all the parties around showed real intention to create a fruitful discussion. Policymakers were happy to see increased collaboration between consumers organisations and market players. Having shared views and opinions from them would help policymakers create the right regulations. On the other side, market players also demand more guidance from both consumers (in order to fit their needs) and from policymakers and regulations. Having a regulated digital market has the possibility to enhance the trust between consumers and market players.

In the past, market players have been known to use the phrase ‘it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission’. Over the years, large companies have earned a reputation as regulation-averse players, who relish at any opportunity to increase margins. However, the Forum revealed a new reality; market players present at the event requested help and guidance from public stakeholders. According to them, the increasingly polarised climat, sensible regulation could effectively shift the burden of social responsibility on law-makers.

Establishing stronger relations and communication exchanges between public and private stakeholders, as well as with consumers organisation would help create a strong, trustworthy and reliable digital ecosystem.

Having a conscious dialogue between public and private stakeholders will help build trust and create more innovation, collaborative will help empower consumers and unleash the potential of the data economy which leads to the outcome; the collaboration.

2nd outcome: trust between the stakeholders

In order for any dialogue to be fruitful, the parties need to listen and most importantly trust  each other. In all the panels, the speakers stressed the need for trust between all stakeholders.

Trust from the industry toward the policymakers and vice-versa; it is beneficial for all parties that the market is properly regulated. Policymakers sometimes grapple to understand the innovation and surely lag behind the fast pace of innovation.  In order to create regulations that are fit-for-purpose, policymakers need reliable input from not only consumers and consumers organisations but also from market players. It is essential that the market players and the public sector trust each other in order to create the right ecosystem

Trust from the consumers toward the industry and policymakers; products and services need to be appropriate and the public sector should ensure the right rules are in place and that market players are compliant. This trust can, for example, be enhanced by a more transparent industry. Digital companies being more open and more transparent with their data usage (privacy policies) and security would help increase the trust of consumers and result in a healthy and enhance digital economy.

3rd outcome: an inclusive and sustainable innovation

In the upcoming years, the innovation pace will intensify, being enabled by innovation itself. Speaker stressed the need for innovators to create for the end-users and consumers and ensure accessibility, sustainability, and inclusiveness of the products and services. Not only do they need to be inclusive and sustainable toward consumers in order to empower them and make them feel more confident and trustful but also to safeguard their health, their data, and their demands.

Central to the debates was a recognition that the role of the consumer has changed. As Ivo Mechels, CEO of Euroconsumers, explained;  consumers are the drivers of the development and new market. From their digital well-being to their mobility as well as their economic power, the offer needs to include them at the centre. It is essential that any innovation create for them, i.e their needs practical and economic and their rights. For example, data became a currency creating an economical power behind any consumers. However, in order for this to be functional, the above-mentioned needs should be particularly considered and balanced. Any innovation has to consider all the implications and be inclusive in order to be sustainable.

4th outcome: the need for interoperability

Speakers stressed the importance of the interoperability of the entire ecosystem. The interoperability of the digital ecosystem would not only give the ability to transfer and render useful data and other information across platforms and stakeholders (consumers, industry and public sectors), but would also create an integrated market, more security, more trust and would ultimately truly unleash the potential of the innovation.

Having an integrated and functioning market can help also empower consumers by giving them a choice. This empowerment will come with more trust in each market player. Additionally, an interoperable market can strengthen competition and enhance innovation which would benefit all the actors around that table.

The event also inaugurated the annual Euroconsumers BeXt Awards, for the household appliance and electronic device brands that achieve the highest standards in meeting consumer expectations, based on the results of Euroconsumers’ rigorous comparative tests and consumer surveys.

With the International Forum, Euroconsumers has therefore done more than host a dialogue. It has launched an initiative to place consumers and their data at the centre of the market, recognising their economic value and expanding the focus of rights protection to include rights management.

To know more about the BeXt Award and see all the winners of this 2019 session please read our articles here.