Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have recently discussed how to tackle remaining barriers to cross-border online sales in Europe during a joint meeting of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and the Industry, Research and Energy committees of the European Parliament. During the meeting, MEPs Gebhardt and Kallas presented the jointreport on the Commission’s Digital Single Market (DSM) Act, of which they are co-rapporteurs.
Do we want different rules for offline and online shopping? No!
The co-rapporteurs for the draft report explained how important harmonized rules for online shopping are. In particular, Ms. Gebhardt stressed that there should not be different rules for offline/online and domestic/cross-border shopping, and Ecommerce Europe fully supports the approach adopted in the report. Ecommerce Europe strongly believes in full harmonization of legal frameworks for cross-border sales in Europe. Therefore, there should not be any need for different provisions for online and offline shops as this would only lead to more legal confusion.
A focus on geo-blocking
During the meeting, Ms. Gebhardt stressed that geo-blocking is currently one of the most important issues that needs to be solved. Overall, MEPs agreed on the fact that unjustified geo-blocking should be tackled. Ecommerce Europe asks EU policy makers to be cautious when they will make legislative proposals on geo-blocking, to ensure that only unjustified practices will be forbidden. In any case, new EU rules should not oblige all online shops to sell in all the countries of the European Union, since these shops can have objective reasons for not doing so, such as:
- Long-distance delivery, which can lead to higher costs for an online shop, and thus a higher final price for the consumer;
- Language barriers, which can also result in higher costs;
- Legal uncertainty due to differences in privacy, copyright and/or consumer legislation;
- And many other reasons…
The need for a more harmonized VAT-system
In their feedback on the report, MEPs also stressed the need for a new VAT system. Various MEPs called for the harmonization of the current VAT framework, as online merchants have to be confronted to (potentially) 28 different sets of rules for VAT and taxation. Ecommerce Europe agrees that the current EU VAT rules represent an administrative burden for online shops, especially smaller ones. That is why Ecommerce Europe advocates for the creation of a level playing field, through simplified VAT registration and declaration procedures and fair taxation policy.
The parliamentary committees will discuss again the report on 10 November and, most probably, amendments to the draft text will be proposed. Ecommerce Europe will keep monitoring the process and remain in close dialogue with the European policy makers to ensure that the voice of the e-commerce sector is heard.
For more detailed information about Ecommerce Europe’s priorities for a better policy landscape that fosters e-commerce growth, please see the Ecommerce Europe Priority Paper (2015).