Council of the European Union sets priorities for the next 18 months

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The Council of the European Union has set its work program for the period January 2016 to June 2017. Top priorities for the coming 18 months include delivering economic growth, creating jobs and promoting the competitiveness of the European economy, and e-commerce is part of the plan. This period will be overseen by the Dutch, Slovak and Maltese Presidencies which will each steer the work of the Council for six months. The Netherlands already took over the Council Presidency from Luxembourg on 1 January 2016.

Jobs, growth and the (Digital) Single Market

As the effects of the 2008 financial crisis continue to subside, the Council considers it a priority to continue and strengthen Europe’s economic recovery and to ensure that the benefits of this are available to both businesses and citizens. In this respect, the three Presidencies have committed to focusing on “making full use of the potential of the single market, including in the digital sphere” and on “encouraging a climate of entrepreneurship and job creation”.

Ecommerce Europe welcomes this approach and hopes that the focus on the Digital Single Market especially will deliver positive, concrete results for the e-commerce sector. Indeed, in the digital sphere, the Council work program is set to include initiatives in the areas of regulation for geo-blocking, digital contracts, cross-border e-commerce, electronic communications, consumer protection cooperation and the pending data protection reform. Ecommerce Europe is convinced that all these initiatives are of primary importance for the online sales sector but any new or updated legislation should not impose unreasonable administrative burdens for businesses, particularly smaller ones.

Need for clear and simple regulation: a genuine priority?

In the interest of boosting entrepreneurship, all three countries have committed to promoting a climate in which small and medium businesses (SMEs) can thrive. This will include further work on the “regulatory fitness”, i.e. the reduction of regulatory and administrative burdens by the European Institutions. Ecommerce Europe is glad about this commitment in light of the significant barriers that SMEs face in expanding cross-border.

In terms of market regulation, Ecommerce Europe believes that the Dutch and the other upcoming Presidencies should bear in mind the importance of setting the same rules for online and offline sales. This is crucial in order to avoid confusion and legal uncertainty for businesses selling or seeking to sell cross-border. If the Council truly wishes to harness the potential of the Digital Single Market, full harmonization must become a key area of work in the months ahead.

Next steps

The three Presidencies will ensure that the Council remains flexible so that it can respond to new developments, and that it swiftly addresses any challenges that may appear. Ecommerce Europe will work to ensure that the voices of online merchants are heard in the relevant legislative debates.

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