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Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Europe Proposes New E-commerce Rules


The European Commission today tabled a package of measures to allow consumers and companies to buy and sell products and services online more confidently across the EU.

The European Commission has presented a three-pronged plan to boost e-commerce by tackling geoblocking, making cross-border parcel delivery more affordable and efficient.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said: "All too often people are blocked from accessing the best offers when shopping online or decide not to buy cross-border because the delivery prices are too high or they are worried about how to claim their rights if something goes wrong. We want to solve the problems that are preventing consumers and businesses from fully enjoying the opportunities of buying and selling products and services online."

The proposed e-commerce package is composed of:

  • A legislative proposal to address unjustified geoblocking and other forms of discrimination on the grounds of nationality, residence or establishment;
  • A legislative proposal on cross-border parcel delivery services to increase the transparency of prices and improve regulatory oversight;
  • A legislative proposal to strengthen enforcement of consumers' rights and guidance to clarify, among others, what qualifies as an unfair commercial practice in the digital world.

The European Commission is proposing legislation to ensure that consumers seeking to buy products and services in another EU country, be it online or in person, are not discriminated against in terms of access to prices, sales or payment conditions, unless this is objectively justified for reasons such as VAT or certain public interest legal provisions.

When a consumer enters a shop in another EU country, the owner does not ask for the consumer’s ID in order to accept a purchase or to adjust the price or conditions. But in the online world, all too often consumers are blocked from accessing offers in other countries for example by re-routing the consumer back to a country-specific website, or asking to pay with a debit or credit card from a certain country. EC says that such discrimination has no place in the Single Market.

To avoid introducing disproportionate burden on companies, the proposed regulation does not impose an obligation to deliver across the EU and exempts small businesses that fall under a national VAT threshold from certain provisions.

EC says tha the regulation proposed today will increase price transparency and regulatory oversight of cross-border parcel delivery services so that consumers and retailers can benefit from affordable deliveries and return options even to and from peripheral regions.

Consumers and small businesses complain that problems with parcel delivery, in particular high delivery charges in cross-border shippings, prevent them from selling or buying more across the EU. Prices charged by postal operators to deliver a small parcel to another European Member State are often up to 5 times higher than domestic prices, without a clear correlation to the actual costs.

The regulation will foster competition by introducing greater price transparency. The Commission is not proposing a cap on delivery prices. Price regulation is only a means of last resort, where competition does not bring satisfactory results. The Commission will take stock of progress made in 2019 and assess if further measures are necessary.

The regulation will give national postal regulators the data they need to monitor cross-border markets and check the affordability and cost-orientation of prices. It will also encourage competition by requiring transparent and non-discriminatory third-party access to cross-border parcel delivery services and infrastructure. The Commission will publish public listed prices of universal service providers to increase peer competition and tariff transparency.

The Commission is also publishing updated guidance on unfair commercial practices to respond among others to the challenges presented by the digital world. It clarifies the application of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. For instance, any online platform that qualifies as a "trader" and promotes or sells goods, services or digital content to consumers must make sure that its own commercial practices fully comply with EU consumer law. Platforms must state clearly that rules on unfair commercial practices do not apply to private persons selling goods, and search engines would be required to clearly distinguish paid placements from natural search results.

EU To Probe relations between web platforms and businesses

Seperately, the European Commission will examine the terms of use of web platforms such as Google, Amazon and Apple's App Store for businesses to decide whether further regulation is needed to curb possible unfair practices.

The European Union executive on Wednesday presented the conclusions from a year-long inquiry into online platforms, ruling out a single law for them but saying it would target specific problems in areas such as copyright and telecoms.

The Commission also proposed a reform of the bloc's broadcasting rules which will include an obligation on providers of online video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon to devote at least a fifth of their catalog to European works.

EU member states will also have the option of requiring streaming services not based in that country but targeting their audience to contribute financially to the production of European works.

Separately, the Commission has charged Google with abusing its dominance to promote its shopping service over rival services.

In an upcoming reform of EU telecoms rules the Commission said it will look at both deregulating telecoms companies where they face competition from similar services, such as Microsoft's Skype or Facebook's WhatsApp, and extending some telecoms data protection rules to platforms providing similar services.

The new broadcasting rules will become law when approved by the European Parliament and national governments.



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