Who: The European Commission
Where: European Union
When: 25 May 2016
Law stated as at: Ecommerce package
As one of the three founding pillars of its – now one-year old – Digital Single Market initiative, on 25 May 2016, the European Commission issued the “Ecommerce Package.” The aim behind it, as the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said, is to let consumers “buy online as confidently as they would offline”, thus boosting ecommerce within the EU Single Market.
This Ecommerce Package is composed of three legislative proposals. These relate to unjustified geoblocking, cross-border parcel delivery services and cooperation on consumer protection issues. The latter is accompanied by guidance on unfair commercial practices targeted at the digital world.
Why this matters:
Each of the Commission’s proposals brings novelties adapting consumers’ rights to online trade; below are the most relevant changes that these proposals – if adopted – would bring into the EU.
The proposal concerning unjustified geoblocking aims to enable European consumers to have better access to goods and services by preventing direct and indirect discrimination based on their nationality, residence or place of establishment – yet leaving traders free to set their pricing policy provided it is in a non-discriminatory manner.
The non-discrimination principle was already laid down by the Services Directive 2006/123/EC, but this new proposal clarifies what objectively justifies differences of treatment applied by traders.
However, not all sectors will have to comply with these rules: non-economic services of general interest, transport services, audiovisual services, gambling activities, healthcare services and certain social services are excluded from the scope of the proposal. Examples of what will be considered as traders’ discriminatory behaviour are the following:
- Access to online interfaces: it will be discriminatory and hence banned to block, limit access or redirect site visitors to a different version of the trader’s online interface based on the country from which they are accessing the site; and
- Payment: it will be discriminatory and banned to impose different conditions for residents of different countries as regards payments made as part of e-transactions by a card-based payment instrument.
Parcel delivery services
Regarding parcel delivery services, the proposed legislation aims at obtaining more transparency in delivery pricing strategies applied by companies operating in this sector, so increasing competition to the benefit of consumers.
The proposed rules require main providers to declare themselves before the national regulatory authority and to submit their list of tariffs to authorities’ assessment on an annual basis. The European Commission will then liaise with these national authorities with a view to publishing a pan-European assessment that will help providers conduct transparent negotiations.
Consumer protection proposals
The proposal concerning consumer protection cooperation strengthens national authorities’ enforcement powers and mutual assistance for cross-border cases. Under the proposed legislation, these authorities will be able to suspend or close down any digital site, service or account, as well as to impose penalties to safeguard consumers.
All these proposals have now to undergo a review by EU Council and Parliament. We will report on their opinions in the following months.