The European Commission has recently released initial results on their recent public consultations on geo-blocking and the role of online platforms. The aim of the first consultation was to gather evidence and views on the restrictions faced by users, consumers and businesses when they access or provide information, shop or sell across borders in the EU. The objective of the second consultation was to gather evidence and views on the regulatory environment for platforms, liability of intermediaries, data and cloud and collaborative economy.
The role of online platforms
Ecommerce Europe is pleased to see that the preliminary outcome of the consultation process on the role of online platforms highlights their huge benefits. According to the primary results, some important concerns need to be addressed, particularly issues regarding transparency. A majority of respondents agreed that these concerns were best addressed by a combination of regulatory solutions, self-regulation and market-dynamics.
More than 90% of consumers and a majority of businesses agreed that unjustified geo-blocking poses a significant obstacle to the single market and constitutes an issue to be addressed by the European Union. The consultation also showed, however, that companies stressed the need for sensible legislation respecting the right to contractual freedom of businesses. Many online merchants do not want to see an obligation for traders to sell and deliver goods outside of the areas where they would normally sell.
Ecommerce Europe believes that differentiation in price and conditions should be allowed if there is an objective reason on the basis of the pricing policy decision. It is crucial that online merchants can rely on their right to economic and contractual freedom and freedom of entrepreneurial activity based on reasonable grounds. This also means that an individual company may decide not to sell to a consumer from another Member State. This qualifies as differentiation (and not discrimination) based on the place of residence and can be justified under so-called "objective criteria" (Article 20.2 of the Services Directive). Ecommerce Europe believes that geo-differentiation, based on the place of residence under objective criteria, should remain a legal option for online retailers.
The full report of the outcome of the public consultation on geo-blocking is expected in due course, with the results of the study feeding into the Commission’s legislative proposal to end unjustified geo-blocking expected for mid-2016. The full report on online platforms is expected to be published in spring 2016, with a number of replies being taken into account for various Commission initiatives throughout 2016. Ecommerce Europe is currently developing updated position papers on both topics and will publish them in the coming weeks.