EU Commission Expert Group presents how to improve competitiveness in the EU retail sector

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The European Commission set up a High Level Group consisting of different stakeholders in the retail chain in December 2013. Its main objective is to assist EU policy makers in developing policies to increase the competitiveness of the European retail sector. The expert group has recently published its recommendations and e-commerce has been identified as one of the main essential themes for improving the retail competitiveness in the European Union.

Reduce legal fragmentation to foster cross-border e-commerce

Ecommerce Europe is glad to notice that it shares many of the points included in the Expert Group Report on e-commerce, such as the fact that the current fragmented regulatory framework represents a barrier to the development of cross-border e-commerce. This is confirmed also by the results of the Survey “Barriers to Growth”, performed by Ecommerce Europe at the beginning of this year, which identified dealing with fragmented legal frameworks one of the TOP-3 obstacles to cross-border online sales.

A more balanced approach on data protection

Ecommerce Europe is glad to see that the Expert Group recommended to have a balanced approach towards the protection of personal data, which is something that Ecommerce Europe has been long advocating for. The Expert Group, in fact, supports an approach combining the protection of consumers’ personal data from misuse, but allowing online companies more freedom to conduct business in a more balanced manner.

Tackling tax fragmentation

The Expert Group stressed that the fast development of e-commerce has exacerbated the effects of the lack of tax harmonisation in the EU. Ecommerce Europe is on the same line and believes that dealing with different VAT procedures and rates across the EU is a great obstacle to cross-border online sales. Ecommerce Europe – like the Expert Group – supports the extension of the destination principle (apply VAT of the country where the consumer is located) to all goods and services sold online, in order to bring clarity and foster fair competition. However, the destination principle should be accompanied simplification measures to support smaller companies which have fewer resources.

Easier and less expensive online payments

The Expert Group also stressed that even though effective methods for e-payments already exist, each Member State has its own payment traditions, which may raise transaction costs and can have discouraging effects on online merchants. Ecommerce Europe also believes that e-payments can be a problematic area when selling cross-border and therefore asks the EU regulators to swiftly conclude the creation of a pan-European framework for online payments, which should leave room for innovation at a fair cost.

Next steps

The Report of the High Level Group on Retail Competitiveness is expected to flow most probably in the Digital Single Market Strategy of the European Commission. Ecommerce Europe will closely monitor any activity of the Expert Group and will report to its members accordingly.

To know more in detail Ecommerce Europe’s recommendations for facilitating cross-border e-commerce in Europe, you can download Ecommerce Europe’s Priority Paper here.

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