eCommerce Package: good start on parcel delivery, more clarity needed on geo-blocking

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In light of today’s release of the European Commission’s eCommerce Package, which contains several legislative and policy initiatives with the aim of boosting online sales in Europe, industry association Ecommerce Europe gives its initial response. Ecommerce Europe welcomes the progress that the European Commission has been making in the Digital Single Market strategy and recognizes that some of the online merchants’ recommendations have been taken into account, but the association warns that critical underlying problems, such as legal fragmentation, are not being addressed by the current eCommerce Package.

“Ecommerce Europe supports the objectives of the Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy. However, we want to stress that the real problems in e-commerce are related to the fact that we still haven’t attained a real, fully harmonized Single Market. Neither offline nor online. Therefore, the legislative initiatives coming from the European Union should focus more on removing the remaining barriers that are, for instance, the intrinsic causes of geo-blocking practices and inefficient parcel delivery, rather than merely trying to tackle its consequences”, declared Marlene ten Ham, Secretary General of Ecommerce Europe. “We will continue to work with European policy makers to ensure that we get to the roots of the problems”, she added.

Geo-blocking proposal needs further fine tuning on applicable law

Ecommerce Europe is pleased to see that the proposal on geo-blocking does not contain an obligation for online merchants to deliver everywhere in the European Union and that they are free in setting their pricing policies. “We have always strongly opposed an obligation to deliver all over Europe because it would impose disproportionate costs to online merchants. Such an option would be a breach of the freedom of entrepreneurial activity”, stated Ms. ten Ham.

According to the proposal, foreign consumers will be allowed to shop like local ones under certain conditions. Such cases, according to Ecommerce Europe’s interpretation, will be treated as passive sales, which means that online merchants will be allowed to apply their home country rules and laws. Ecommerce Europe is pleased that the Commission further clarified this point in the text, even though it might need further fine tuning. Only in this way, online merchants can be sure that they are allowed to apply their national laws, without being forced to deal with laws of countries that they are not actively targeting. Besides that, EU policy makers should be aware that one of the consequences of this proposal might be that consumers end up disappointed with a product that they could buy from a website not directing its sales activities to the country of the consumer and which thus might not have been fit for this market.

Parcel delivery regulation has potential but more focus on interoperability needed

Ecommerce Europe recognizes that the proposal for a parcel delivery regulation has the potential to help create a level playing field for competing postal-, courier- and express operators and thereby in the end for online merchants throughout Europe. Ms. ten Ham commented: “We welcome the fact that the proposed regulation allows swift action and avoids further regulatory fragmentation which could result from other legal instruments. We also welcome the increase in visibility on cross-border tariffs and the increased power for national regulatory authorities to make comprehensive analyses of the competition in cross-border parcel markets. Online merchants need to be able to benefit from better prices, even when sending lower volumes.”

The association has been vocal in opposing any type of price regulation and Ecommerce Europe therefore expresses support for the Commission’s cautious approach which leaves room for case-by-case assessment by national authorities. Ecommerce Europe will however continue its work with service providers and policy makers to ensure that we come closer to a global level playing field accessible to all players through the use of open information- and label standards. “Only when standards and interfaces are interoperable across providers and across borders, we can truly reduce the burdens and costs for merchants and increase innovation in the delivery value chain”, Ms. Ten Ham added.

Revised UCPD Guidance and proposal to review the CPC Regulation

In general, Ecommerce Europe supports the revised Guidance to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, to which Ecommerce Europe actively contributed through Multi-Stakeholder Groups organized by the Commission, such as on key principles for comparison tools. Ecommerce Europe officially endorses these principles and it will contribute to their promotion and implementation.
Concerning the revision of the CPC Regulation, Ecommerce Europe hopes that the proposal will bring more uniformity with regard to the cooperation of supervisory authorities in cross-border cases. Since their approaches can indeed vary across the EU, in general, Ecommerce Europe supports the proposal in the sense that it will also bring more legal certainty in this field for online merchants.
Ecommerce Europe will assess in more detail both the CPC Proposal and the Guidance to ensure that the interests of the industry will be taken into account. For a detailed overview of Ecommerce Europe’s recommendations on geo-blocking, please click here to read the position paper, which will be updated in due time, once the legislative proposal has been carefully assessed.

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