Geo-blocking and online platforms hot topics at the Ecommerce Europe Annual Conference: expectations, feedback and worries from the e-commerce sector

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As part of the Ecommerce Europe Annual Conference, which took place on 30 May, one of the three theme sessions of the day focused, in particular, on the geo-blocking phenomenon and the role of online platforms in the online sales sector. All panelists engaged in fruitful discussions, also with the audience, on these two current hot topics at European level.

Geo-blocking: more clarification about applicable law, no obligation to deliver everywhere

Marc Lolivier, Vice-President Public Affairs of Ecommerce Europe, opened the session by presenting the view of Ecommerce Europe on geo-blocking. Ecommerce Europe is convinced that consumers should not, in principle, be subject to unjustified restrictive business practices. “Fundamental rights to commercial freedom must be protected and traders should never be forced to deliver cross-border”, declared Mr. Lolivier. Also, imposing an obligation to sell to everyone, but not to deliver everywhere, must always lead to the application of the laws and rules of the country of the traders. “In this case, potential negative effects on consumers must also be taken into account, such as disappointment or frustration”, added Mr. Lolivier.

Pierre Friob, from Abitare.lu (an SME selling children’s furniture online), reflected on why online shops do have to geo-block in some cases. “Many obstacles to cross-border e-commerce still exist, and for my company these obstacles are different language and culture, different product safety rules and standards, different laws, VAT and many others” Mr. Friob declared. In his opinion, the EU is targeting the consequence – which is geo-blocking – instead of focusing more on tackling the causes behind it. Claire Bury, Deputy Director General of DG Connect (European Commission), briefly introduced the Commission’s proposal on geo-blocking and replied that the Commission understands the underlying causes of geo-blocking. “We know that we have to work on the causes of geo-blocking but this takes time, so in the meantime we decided to act and ban unjustified geo-blocking”.

Overall, retailers declared to be pleased that there will not be an obligation to deliver in all EU Member States. Also the audience pointed to the fact that more clarification on the applicable law and on when traders are able to apply different prices is needed. The proposal might also be seen as an opportunity to finally clarify the confusing difference between active and passive sales.

Online platforms: overall, good approach from the European Commission

Stefan Krawczyk, Associate General Counsel & Head of Government Relations International of eBay Inc., opened the session by presenting the view of one of the most famous e-commerce platforms in the world. “At eBay, we are very pleased with the balanced approach adopted by the Commission online platforms. We are also very pleased to see that policy makers acknowledged that platforms are extremely important for the EU online economy”, declared Mr. Krawczyk. 
Overall, Ecommerce Europe agrees with eBay that online platforms should be seen more as a driver of economic growth than a threat. Léon Mölenberg, Senior Policy Advisor of Ecommerce Europe, detailed the position of the European e-commerce association. “We see an online platform as a digital environment that enhances and drives e-commerce between the parties involved in that digital environment. Therefore, we believe that this notion should cover five different types of online platform services: online marketplaces, online shopping malls, comparison tools, search engines and intermediaries,” (read the position paper for an in-depth explanation of the different platform services).

Member of the European Parliament Kaja Kallas reflected on the role of online platforms, expressing the important role they play in the EU. “We need, in particular, more clarification about liability. If a counterfeited good is sold online, in principle, those who counterfeited the product should be liable and not the platform,” Ms. Kallas declared. Paul Edwick from Lucy Locket (an SME selling toys online) urged policy makers to refrain from making new legislation on platforms and, overall, this view was shared by other online merchants.

More information on Ecommerce Europe’s positions can be found here.

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