Digital Single Market Update
Although following the result of the EU referendum, its impact on the future of the digital single market and the UK is uncertain, it seems likely that it will remain relevant to those operating in the European market and perhaps even in the UK, depending on the outcome of exit negotiations.
On 25 May 2016, the European Commission announced a tripartite plan of attack aimed at pushing the digital single market strategy forward. The package contains measures to tackle geoblocking, improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness pf cross-border parcel delivery and increase the levels of consumer protection and enforcement to grow levels of trust in e-commerce.
The Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, explained that "…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." The new proposals will begin to break down the barriers seen as hindering the e-commerce market.
The Commission has proposed that new legislation is enacted to prevent discrimination based on nationality or place of residence in relation to prices, sales or payment conditions. The legislation will contain a caveat providing for discrimination to be objectively justified on grounds such as for VAT purposes or where it is in the public interest. The new legislation would also be qualified to the effect that there is no obligation on companies to deliver to all countries in the EU and small businesses will be exempted from certain provisions.
Cross-border parcel delivery
In order to combat high delivery charges in cross-border shipping, issues with parcel delivery and oblique delivery pricing, the Commission have proposed a new regulation. It is hoped that the regulation will increase the transparency of cross-border delivery and increase selling and buying across the EU. The proposals do not increase a price cap on delivery; rather they aim to increase competition between delivery services by publishing the listed prices of universal service providers so that consumers can easily compare and choose the most cost-effective delivery option for them. However, the Commission have not ruled out price regulation and there will be a review in 2019 to assess whether such measures are necessary, though it is described as a 'last resort'.
Increasing consumer trust
The Commission have proposed that the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation be revised to strengthen and add to existing powers national authorities have for the enforcement of consumer rights. The changes mean that national authorities would be able to check whether a website uses geoblocking, order the immediate take-down of websites hosting scams and request identification information from domain registrars and banks so that the person/entity liable for any such behaviour can be traced.
A further change is the introduction of the Commission's ability to coordinate EU-wide responses to multinational breaches. In the event of such a breach, the Commission would be able to lead a team of national authorities to ensure a more effective process for dealing with them, saving national resources and better protecting the consumer. The Commission is also publishing new guidance to clarify the application of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. Any online platform that qualifies as a 'trader' under the Directive must now state clearly that the rules on unfair commercial practices do not apply to individuals selling goods in a private capacity. Traders must also ensure that their own practices comply with EU consumer law. In addition, search engines must show clearly where advertising placements have been paid for and are not 'natural' search results.