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Commission proposes e-commerce rules to boost cross-border sales

The European Commission has proposed measures to make it easier for consumers and companies to buy and sell products online across the EU.01 Jun 2016

Outlining a "three-pronged" plan, the Commission said that it will tackle geoblocking, where consumers are blocked from accessing products on sale in other countries, make cross-border parcel delivery more affordable, and increase consumer confidence through better protection.

Online consumers are often blocked from accessing offers in other countries by being re-routed back to a country-specific website or by being asked to buy using a local debit or credit card.

The proposed regulation would also increase regulations on parcel delivery and improve transparency on pricing to allow deliveries to "even … peripheral regions", the Commission said.

"Prices charged by postal operators to deliver a small parcel to another member state are often up to five times higher than domestic prices, without a clear correlation to the actual costs," the Commission said.

National postal regulators will monitor the affordability of prices, while third-party suppliers will be given 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", it said.

The proposed rules do not yet include a cap on delivery prices but the Commission will "take stock of progress made by 2019 and assess if further measures are necessary", it said.

The 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, the Commission said.

A proposed revision of the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation would give national authorities more power to enforce consumer rights, allowing them to check whether websites geo-block consumers or break EU rules on after-sales conditions. Regulators would also be able to order the immediate take-down of websites hosting "scams", and request information from domain registrars and banks on the trader behind a site, the Commission said.

Günther Oettinger, commissioner for the digital economy and society said: "The geoblocking initiative strikes the right balance between consumers' interest to be able to shop online without borders and providing businesses with sufficient legal certainty. I am confident that our approach, taking due account of specificities of certain sectors, will give the right boost to cross-border e-commerce in the EU." 

The Commission also presented an update to its approach to online platforms.  

The Commission said in March that consumers are partly prevented from accessing online services and content across the EU by "contractual barriers" put in place by businesses.

The Commission said that more than 1,400 retailers and digital content providers had engaged with its e-commerce sector inquiry and that the responses showed that geo-blocking of consumer goods and digital content is "common".

The Commission said 38% of retailers selling consumer goods said that they geo-block consumers located in other EU countries from buying those goods and 12% of all the retailers that responded said there are "contractual restrictions" on cross-border selling for at least one type of product they offer.

Geo-blocking is also common among digital content providers, according to the Commission's initial findings. It said that 68% of digital content providers geo-block consumers from some EU countries from accessing the digital content they supply. More than half of the content providers (59%) said they are "contractually required by suppliers to geo-block", according to the Commission.