EU seeks to tear down online-shopping hurdles, but industry sceptical

The European Union launched a new bid Wednesday to help online shoppers make purchases across the bloc, regardless of where they live, but the effort to boost e-commerce was met with scepticism from industry players.

The 28-country EU is built on the idea of transcending national borders, but in practice European consumers still face discrimination when they try to buy goods or services from another member state than their own - notably on the internet.

"Anyone of us could never accept a situation where we are ordered to present our ID entering a supermarket anywhere in Europe," EU Internal Market Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said in Brussels. "This should also not be acceptable in the online world."

The practice of geoblocking, which leads to foreign online shoppers being denied access to websites, has proven particularly frustrating to Europeans. The commission received more than 1,500 complaints about the matter from 2008 to 2015.

"The situation in the EU is not so good," European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip said, noting that in a mystery shopping survey only 36.6 per cent of Europeans who attempted to buy goods or services from another EU country were successful.

The commission on Wednesday issued a set of proposals to undercut geoblocking, including bans on practices such as automatically re-routing customers to their national websites or limiting payment options to credit cards or bank accounts from a certain country.

The online sale of products available for pick-up in a member state would have to be accessible to foreign customers. Geoblocking would also be forbidden for the sale of electronically supplied services such as data storage and services provided in a physical location such as car rentals.

The EU will make an exception for non-audiovisual works protected by copyright, such as music, in what Ansip said was a "compromise."

The EU's executive hopes that the new rules can come into effect next year, but they will first have to be approved by the bloc's governments and the European Parliament.

Resistance already came on Wednesday from industry groups.

"We are concerned about the lack of clarity on certain elements of the geo-blocking proposal where loopholes may exist," Markus Beyrer of the BusinessEurope group warned.

The German e-commerce association bevh said the commission's proposal would interfere in commercial freedom by forcing retailers into cross-border sales, despite assertions from the Brussels institution that traders would not be obliged to sell and deliver across Europe.

The geoblocking proposal was only one component of a reform package the commission unveiled Wednesday as part of its bid to create a digital single market in the EU.

Another measure seeks to introduce more transparency and competition in the prices for parcel delivery. Unexplainable differences between domestic and cross-border parcel delivery are preventing the development of e-commerce in Europe, Ansip said.

But the PostEurop association of postal operators criticized the proposal as "disproportionate," saying that it would force operators to "share a vast amount of confidential commercial data."

The commission also faced industry pushback Wednesday on a separate audiovisual package that seeks, among other things, to have European films and television series be offered more consistently on online streaming services.

"We appreciate the commission's objective to have European production flourish, however the proposed measures won't actually achieve that," streaming giant Netflix said in a statement.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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