"Para melhorar o presente è preciso sonhar o futuro"
"To improve the present, it is necessary to dream the future” - This is probably the only phrase in Portuguese – such a lovely language – that you will hear in my wrap-up today, I apologize for it … To be sincere it’s not even the first time I use this sentence in a speech, I did 5 years ago in Sao Paulo, with the complicity then as now of Henrique Lian, the Curator of our EC Forums, but today it is even more full of meanings. In case you liked our event today I ask you to make a big applause to Henrique!
Pandemics and War
We live without any doubt in special and unstable times. After two years of the pandemic, with inevitable heavy economic repercussions, we were finally seeing the first signs of hope. Then, almost as if in a nightmare, we were plunged back into the horrors of war in Europe - which we believed to be relegated to the distant past, and which seriously calls our future into question.
Our thoughts and full solidarity go of course to the Ukrainian people, who are still fighting for their country and for their freedom, with such courage that they have won the attention and support of the entire world in the last 9 months.
But there is much more to reflect about in these circumstances: peace is a necessary precondition both for the maintenance of an advanced consumer society, with all the consequent comforts and conveniences to which we are used to in the Western world and for the development of civil rights, including those consumerist battles aimed at rebalancing the power between consumers and businesses within a fairer market, through the levers of legislation, enforcement, and open dialogue with responsible market players. Without a stable and lasting peace, as we have experienced in Europe from the 2nd world war, everything that we more broadly refer to as the concept of consumerism could not continue, in the forms known to us.
Globalization and Europe
The global and pervasive dimension of the pandemic and the serious issues related to climate change, have provoked not at all obvious reactions from the institutions of the European Union that, even if not without errors, proved to be substantially fair and received large support from EU citizens. A newfound European confidence has been set, thanks also to the values that have accompanied the pursuit of EU policies in the domain of health and safety, protection of the environment and future generations, and new energy sources. Exactly in the same way in the face of war and the related energy crisis - we expect more of Europe, not less. A Europe that should be more harmonious and firmer on its positions, which does not shy away from the challenge of delivering a strong unitary political line in these challenging times. In this light a serious price cap on gas would be an important and promising first step towards an EU common energy policy now more necessary than ever to effectively tackle the energy crisis, as argued recently by Euroconsumers. The European Union should also try to compete proudly in global markets with China and the United States, which outperform EU in many sectors on a more purely industrial level, with the weapons that are more suited to it, those of regulation. And, in doing this, as I will try to say more clearly in a moment, we need to further empower the consumer as a subject who can become a bottom-up rebalancing lever in many markets.
Navigating through the Roaring 20s, together
As a matter of fact, the Roaring 20s started with a big party in the previous century and ended with big depression and devastation, in this century it has been up till now other way around, so optimistically we hope that the cycle is reverse.
Navigating in uncharted waters is not exactly the easiest exercise: you need to be resilient and teaming up, helping each other's becomes key. If – as I just said - the moment for the European Union to concretely exercise its leadership is now, this applies not only to EU institutions and politicians, but also to responsible companies and consumer organisations which intend to seize this unique opportunity to rebuild our economy and society in a more sustainable and responsible way after Covid-19, and despite the terrible threat of war.
Isolated in our own bubbles we won’t be able to effect change: too small, too slow, too weak, but if we join forces, we can become drivers of change. We should exercise as individuals and society our fundamental rights to guarantee that in the middle and long term our own rights and comforts are maintained and expanded to a larger number of people all around the world. We wish for peace to be re-established as soon as possible and, as a consumer organisation, we will also work to help all consumers in these times, so that they may heat their houses in winter and air condition in summer.
Euroconsumers: an international integrated Group
Coming back to us just for a moment, Euroconsumers is a unique integrated international Group of 5 consumer organisations, all membership-based and therefore in direct contact with consumers, with a long-standing experience in doing comparative tests, surveys, research, organizing judicial and enforcement actions, handling hundreds of thousands consumer requests and complaints, guiding millions of consumers to our website and comparators on a yearly basis. This puts “our finger on the pulse of society” and our advocacy is based on this! Moreover, our ambition to serve consumers in an effective and modern way and our willingness to meet the challenges of the global markets brings our activities often beyond the narrow national borders within which the organizations that founded Euroconsumers operate, always in a collaborative approach with other consumer organisations.
In these special times we fully perceive all these heavy responsibilities on our shoulders, I want therefore to thank the many Portuguese colleagues from Deco Proteste present in the room, but also those who are following us online, from Brazil, Italy, Belgium and Spain, thank you all dear colleagues from Proteste, Altroconsumo, Test Achats and OCU, with your daily hard work you empower millions of consumers and, indirectly, improve the market, you’re doing a great job and you need to be proud of it!
Consumers, Citizens, People
Consumers are no longer only weak subjects, as such worthy of particular protection, but also and above all: the protagonists of the new digital markets, in which they confer - more or less consciously - their personal data; of the energy transition, because only if they will adopt massively farsighted behaviours, it will be possible to have a real change; and, finally of a non-theoretical or elitist approach to sustainability, through which only, we can imagine design together more balanced and responsible markets for the future.
It is not by chance, on the other hand, that consumer law has increasingly become in the last 20 years a very relevant instrument for the enforcement of fundamental rights, just think of the ever more expansive use of the discipline of unfair commercial practices, relevant for consumers, as well as for citizens. We hear very often the litany “We are all consumers”, I personally like most the one: “Before being consumers, we are People”! We need a new social contract, that’s for sure - and this to be successful in facing the challenges of 21st century must not only respect consumers' rights but be based on an open dialogue, involving certainly institutions and businesses, but necessarily also consumers and citizens representatives.
With this scheme very clear in our heads, we aim to work on three priority areas in the coming year.
Innovation indeed does not belong exclusively to big tech and industry experts, because true innovation exists only if it brings tangible benefits to the lives of as many people as possible.
Energy, inflation, and climate Crises
It must be ensured that after the deployment of the necessary recovery instruments of NextGenerationEU a lively market dialectic between supply and demand emerges even stronger and more resilient from the current crisis.
Circular economy and Sustainability
Our challenge in this area, given our specificity, must be to guarantee the widest possible accessibility to sustainable consumption choices: we want to democratize sustainability!
Para melhorar o presente è preciso sonhar o futuro!
To improve the present, it is necessary to dream of the future - as I said at the beginning, this is an even more meaningful sentence today... Despite all the difficulties and uncertainties of these present times, Euroconsumers intends indeed to continue to look into the future and with commitment, determination, and optimism, to contribute to shaping a market and society better than the current ones.
That's what we did all together today. Thank you all very much for your active and sincere participation!
Speech delivered in Teatro Capitólio, Lisbon - 7th December 2022