Blog: Online retail: unlocking the potential of e-commerce across Europe

Met dank overgenomen van A. (Andrus) Ansip i, gepubliceerd op dinsdag 5 juni 2018.

Back in October 2014 at my European Parliament hearing, I talked about the Digital Single Market (DSM) needing to remove obstacles that prevented people from exercising their rights as consumers and entrepreneurs.

I talked about internet users being unable to buy goods and services online, via a website based in one EU country, when they - or their credit card - were based in another.

I also mentioned the economic growth potential of e-commerce in the EU and promised to work to abolish geoblocking, because I see it as going against the core principles of Europe's single market.

And I have talked about it a lot since then.

Getting rid of unjustified geoblocking has been a particular desire of mine.

Finally, in early December - and after a lot of legal drafting and negotiating - this unacceptable practice will be consigned to history.

All Europeans will be able to shop online freely in the run-up to Christmas - wherever they are in the EU.

Of course, all EU countries will have to properly implement and enforce the new regulation in their territories to make it work - and open up cross-border e-commerce.

Rest assured, in the coming weeks I will bring this message again and again to EU governments: prepare well, so that from December customers and online sellers can fully profit from these new rules.

Abolishing unjustified geoblocking is a huge step forward, but not the only piece in the puzzle.

There are some other obstacles to be removed so that e-commerce in Europe can get the proper boost it deserves.

Businesses need legal certainty to carry out online trading in multiple EU countries.

That is still not the case today. According to a recent Eurostat report, EU companies are not making full use of cross-border web sales.

In 2016 in the EU-28, while almost all enterprises with web sales - the main method of online selling - sold to customers in their own country, only 7% of them made these sales to other EU countries. In 2017, only 22% of internet users were involved in cross-border shopping.

Consumers have to trust the online environment to get the most out of it. That means safety, security and guaranteed rights.

And e-commerce has to be affordable - and easy - for both sides. Otherwise, why bother at all?

These are basic principles and we are addressing them one by one.

For example, there was a problem across Europe with widely varying costs of parcel delivery for online sales, where public prices could be disproportionately higher than the equivalent domestic prices.

The situation will change after the EU agreed on rules for more transparent and affordable cross-border parcel delivery prices. It means that consumers and e-retailers can buy and sell products and services online more easily and confidently across the EU.

The EU has also made life easier for online retailers on tax.

An agreement on new VAT rules for e-commerce makes it simpler for online businesses to comply with VAT obligations. They now face less red tape when they sell to consumers in other EU countries.

All good news: but there is still at least one area where we are awaiting final EU agreement.

Many traders see the uncertainty related to applicable consumer protection law as a major barrier to cross-border e-commerce.

To sort this situation out, the Commission presented two legal proposals in December 2015 designed to provide simple and effective cross-border contract rules for consumers and businesses.

Taken together, they should help consumers to become more confident buying online. Companies should find it easier to expand into other EU countries.

Both draft laws are still being discussed by our institutional partners: the European Parliament and Council.

We need agreement - on both - as soon as possible to realise the full potential of pan-European e-commerce.

Tomorrow, I will meet my fellow Commissioners - and our experts - involved in e-commerce policies to discuss how prepared EU countries are for the geoblocking regulation to enter into force - and where we stand with the other pieces of the e-commerce puzzle that I mentioned earlier.

E-commerce has become the fastest-growing retail spending market in Europe. With the DSM, we have come a long way, in a relatively short period, to unlock more of its potential.

We are not quite there yet - but we can still be proud of this success.

Another blog soon.