Commission proposes e-commerce rules to help consumers and companies reap benefit of Single Market
The European Commission has just tabled a package of measures to allow consumers and companies to buy and sell products and services online more easily and confidently across the EU
Photograph: Ivan Kruk (Associated Press)
On Wednesday 25 May, in delivering on its Digital Single Market and Single Market strategies, the European Commission presented a three-pronged plan to boost e-commerce by tackling geoblocking, making cross-border parcel delivery more affordable and efficient and promoting customer trust through better protection and enforcement.
Preventing geoblocking and other forms of discrimination based on nationality or place of residence
The Commission is proposing legislation to ensure that consumers seeking to buy products and services in another EU country, be it online or in person, are not discriminated against in terms of access to prices, sales or payment conditions, unless this is objectively justified for reasons such as VAT or certain public interest legal provisions.
When a consumer enters a shop in another EU country, the owner does not ask for the consumer’s ID in order to accept a purchase or to adjust the price or conditions. But in the online world, all too often consumers are blocked from accessing offers in other countries for example by re-routing the consumer back to a country-specific website, or asking to pay with a debit or credit card from a certain country. Such discrimination has no place in the Single Market.
While the principle of non-discrimination is already established under the Services Directive and the Commission has applied it in services sectors such as car rental companies or amusement parks, companies and consumers alike will benefit from more legal certainty about which practices are allowed and which ones are not. The Regulation will provide this legal certainty and enforceability for products and services online or offline.
Making cross-border parcel delivery more affordable and efficient
The proposed Regulation will increase price transparency and regulatory oversight of cross-border parcel delivery services so that consumers and retailers can benefit from affordable deliveries and convenient return options even to and from peripheral regions.
Consumers and small businesses complain that problems with parcel delivery, in particular high delivery charges in cross-border shippings, prevent them from selling or buying more across the EU. Prices charged by postal operators to deliver a small parcel to another Member State are often up to 5 times higher than domestic prices, without a clear correlation to the actual costs.
The Regulation will foster competition by introducing greater price transparency. The Commission is not proposing a cap on delivery prices. Price regulation is only a means of last resort, where competition does not bring satisfactory results. The Commission will take stock of progress made in 2019 and assess if further measures are necessary.
Increasing consumer trust in e-commerce
The proposed revision of the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation will give more powers to national authorities to better enforce consumer rights. They will be able to:
- check if websites geo-block consumers or offer after-sales conditions not respecting EU rules (e.g. withdrawal rights);
- order the immediate take-down of websites hosting scams;
- request information from domain registrars and banks to detect the identity of the responsible trader.
In case of EU-wide breaches of consumer rights, the Commission will be able to coordinate common actions with national enforcement authorities to stop these practices. It will ensure a swifter protection of consumers, while saving time and resources for Member States and businesses.
Read the full announcement.