Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have recently adopted a report into the Digital Single Market Strategy launched by the European Commission in May 2015. “I am very happy that this report clearly states that we need pro-innovation and pro-digital policies in Europe. If we want to give companies the chance to innovate, we have to give a clear signal that we support innovation”, declared MEP Kallas, Co-rapporteur for the report. MEPs generally welcomed the Commission’s initiatives, which have the potential to significantly boost the growth of the e-commerce sector, but expressed their concern about the risk of different rules for online and offline sales and the lack of measures to address geo-blocking.
Same rules needed for online and offline sales
There was a clear consensus among MEPs about the need for the regulatory harmonization of online and offline sales, something that Ecommerce Europe has long been advocating for. MEP Gebhardt - Co-rapporteur for the Digital Single Market Act - argued that the separate legal regimes are creating problems for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and called for further negotiations with the European Commission to resolve the issue. MEP Ford likewise highlighted the fact that the difference in rules is a source of confusion and legal uncertainty for companies.
Ecommerce Europe totally agrees with the MEPs and believes that in a modern retail sector a shop should be able to easily offer different sale combinations (online and offline/cross-channel sales, sales of tangible goods, services and/or digital content) without any unreasonable legislative burdens for traders. Therefore, we urge EU legislators not to create two different legal regimes for the same product according to the sales method used (stationary or distance sales) with, of course, some exceptions including the right of withdrawal which is not always in place for stationary sales.
Unjustified geo-blocking is bad for business
Many MEPs raised the issue of unjustified geo-blocking and urged the European Commission to put forward a concrete proposal to end this discriminatory practice so that European consumers have better access to online goods and services. While Ecommerce Europe is in favor of policies that facilitate consumer access, it stresses the fact that online merchants may have objective grounds for differentiating between consumers across the EU when it comes to price and conditions. A prime example is when differences across European legislation lead to burdensome costs and a high level of legal uncertainty for businesses.
A higher risk of fraud, associated with less secure payment methods in certain countries, is a further reason why an online merchant may be reluctant to sell to every location in the European Union. Hence, Ecommerce Europe believes that European legislators must be cautious when drafting their proposals on geo-blocking to ensure that only unjustified practices will be forbidden. Indeed, the association is in the process of preparing a consolidated position paper on this topic which will be forwarded to stakeholders and policy makers in the coming weeks.
The resolution on the Digital Single Market Act was adopted by a large majority of 551 votes to 88. Although not legally binding, the resolution is a clear outline of the Parliament’s views regarding the different initiatives contained within the Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy. Ecommerce Europe will be paying close attention to legislative developments in the months ahead and will work together with the EU institutions and other stakeholders to ensure that the views of online retailers are taken into account.