IMCO Committee Discusses Draft Report on Geo-blocking

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On 25 January, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee of the European Parliament considered the draft report, written by rapporteur Róża Thun (EPP, Poland), on the Proposal for a Regulation addressing geo-blocking. The consideration provided an opportunity for the Rapporteur to present her report, and also allowed other MEPs, including the shadow rapporteurs, to give their feedback on the draft report and on the proposal as a whole.

Clarification of applicable law
MEP Thun explained that one of her priorities in drafting her report was to ensure greater legal clarity from the text, so that both traders and consumers could be certain of their position. One of them in provision that she introduced in this line is the clarification that when a trader sells to a consumer who is based in a country that is not targeted by the trader, the contract law of the trader’s country will apply. Several MEPs, including ECR shadow rapporteur Anneleen van Bossuyt (ECR, Belgium) supports the Rapporteur’s approach. However, the S&D shadow rapporteur, Virginie Rozière, commented that she didn’t think the provision was necessary, arguing that the provisions of the Rome I and Brussels I regulations already provide clarity on applicable law. Ecommerce Europe welcomes the clarification of MEP Thun, as the original proposal risked producing legal uncertainty, which would have caused negative effects on online retailers.

Questions of re-routing
A further key question for discussion was that related to re-routing websites based on geographical location, and on what conditions such re-routing should be allowed. MEP Thun’s draft report made a change to the original proposal, in no longer asking for the explicit consent of the consumer prior to re-routing, but rather asking the trader to provide clear information about the re-routing when it takes place, and offering the consumer an option to return to the original page.

MEP Rozière questioned whether the explicit consent provision was that burdensome, given that re-direction occurs only in a very small number of cases. Dita Charanzová (ALDE, Czech Republic), the shadow rapporteur for ALDE, echoed this, arguing that the assumption should not be that the consumer wants to be re-directed. In Ecommerce Europe’s view, MEP Thun’s amendment is highly positive, as the original proposal for explicit consent, risked being overly burdensome both for consumers and traders.

Expansion of scope
One of the major elements of the draft report was the expansion of the scope of the proposed Regulation to include copyrighted non-audiovisual services, such as e-books and computer games. Under MEP Thun’s report, these would fall under the scope of the Regulation as long as the trader was licenced to provide the service in a given country.

This expanded scope received a mixed response in the committee, with Julia Reda (Greens, Germany), the shadow rapporteur for the Greens, expressing her support for the approach, while others raised concerns. MEP Rozière stressed her opposition to the expansion, citing the cultural importance of copyrighted content. Meanwhile, MEP Charanzová called for the proposal to go further, and include audio-visual services, as these are seen as particularly important to consumers.

Next Steps
Moving forward, MEPs have until the deadline of 14 February to submit amendments to MEP Thun’s draft report. Amendments will be considered in the IMCO committee on 6 March, and compromise amendments will be considered on 20-21 March. The IMCO committee will have its final vote on the file on 25 April 2017. After this, it will be scheduled for a vote in the plenary session of the European Parliament. Ecommerce Europe will continue to engage with policymakers and work for legislation that helps to deepen the internal market while also respecting entrepreneurial freedom.

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