On Tuesday 29 November, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee of the European Parliament conducted a session in which they considered the draft report for the Proposal for a Directive on contracts for the online and other distance sales of goods. The consideration was an opportunity for the rapporteur for the file to present and explain their report, and for other MEPs, including the shadow rapporteurs from the other political groups, to give their perspective on it.
Harmonization between online and offline sales
Pascal Arimont (EPP, Belgium), the rapporteur for the file, emphasized the need to ensure full legal harmonization, for online and offline sales. He expressed the view that the European Parliament should take the initiative on extending the scope of the proposal to cover online sales, in order to avoid the delay that would be caused by referring back to the European Commission.
Several other MEPs echoed MEP Arimont’s views on this matter. Dita Charanzová (ALDE, Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the ALDE shadow rapporteur for the file, Kaja Kallas (ALDE, Estonia), expressed full support for the approach in terms of the inclusion of offline sales in the scope, and in terms of pursuing full harmonization.
Ecommerce Europe strongly supports the inclusion of offline sales in the scope of the Directive, in that differing rules between the online and brick-and-mortar spheres would result in legal uncertainty, and be particularly damaging, given the growth of omnichannel shopping.
MEPs express concerns about legal guarantee periods
MEP Arimont’s draft report retained the Commission’s proposal to harmonize the maximum legal guarantee period at the level of two years. Several other MEPs expressed their concerns about this provision, and in particular about the difficulties associated with the Directive reducing maximum guarantee periods in certain Member States.
Lucy Anderson (S&D, UK), the shadow rapporteur for S&D, questioned whether the draft report guaranteed a high level of consumer protection, and argued that the inclusion of a backstop legal guarantee period of longer than two years was not in fundamental conflict with the goal of harmonization. Meanwhile, several MEPs, including Dan Dalton (ECR, UK), Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D, Germany) and Marc Tarabella (S&D, Belgium) stated that it would be difficult to justify a reduction in maximum legal guarantee periods to citizens in those Member States that currently have a longer period than two years. MEP Tarabella was particularly forceful, stressing that the growth of cross-border online sales should not be promoted by rolling back consumer protection.
MEP Arimont responded to these concerns by emphasizing the need for a balanced approach, so that consumer protection as a whole is increased, but we don’t just take the highest level and apply it across the Union as a whole.
In Ecommerce Europe’s view, the balance struck in the draft report is the correct one, reflecting the reality that the two-year period is the current legal situation in 25 EU Member States, and that the overwhelming majority of defects occurs within a two-year period of purchasing a tangible good.
Moving forward, members of the IMCO committee will submit amendments to the co-rapporteurs’ report before the 11 January deadline, which will be considered on 20-21 March. The final vote on the proposal in Committee will be held on 8 June. Following this, it will be voted on in plenary, at a date that is to be confirmed. However, the Council has put on standby this proposal, while focusing more on the digital content one. Ecommerce Europe will continue to advocate on behalf of its members for legislation that secures the maximum possible level of harmonization and balances consumer protection against contractual freedom.