The European Commission (EC) has announced a package of measures that will increase the transparency of cross-border parcel delivery prices and allow consumers and companies to buy and sell products and services online more easily and confidently across the EU.
Delivering on its Digital Single Market and Single Market strategies, the EC has presented a three-pronged plan to boost e-commerce that will tackle unjustified geoblocking and other forms of discrimination on the grounds of nationality, residence or establishment; increase the transparency of prices and improve regulatory oversight on cross-border parcel delivery services; and strengthen the enforcement of consumers’ rights and guidance to clarify what qualifies as an unfair commercial practice in the digital world.
Andrus Ansip, vice-president for the Digital Single Market, said, “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. We want to solve the problems that are preventing consumers and businesses from fully enjoying the opportunities of buying and selling products and services online.”
To prevent geoblocking, the EC is proposing legislation to ensure that consumers seeking to buy products and services in another EU country, be it online or in person, are not discriminated against in terms of access to prices, sales or payment conditions, unless this is objectively justified for reasons such as VAT or certain public-interest legal provisions. However, to avoid introducing disproportionate burden on companies, the EC will not impose an obligation to deliver across the EU and will exempt small businesses that fall under a national VAT threshold from certain provisions.
According to the EC, 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 proposed regulation will increase price transparency and regulatory oversight of cross-border parcel delivery services by publishing a public price list of universal service providers to increase peer competition and tariff transparency.
While this price transparency has been welcomed by national postal operators, they disagree with the EC’s demand that they should share a vast amount of confidential commercial data with national regulators for a yearly affordability assessment of parcel prices and the obligation of national postal operators to grant full access to their delivery networks with very few conditions to third-party operators.
“These last two proposed measures [affordability assessment and third-party access to delivery networks] are disproportionate to the Commission’s objective,” PostEurop, which represents European public postal operators, stated in a press release. “They go in the direction of price regulation and fail to reflect market conditions. Competition is fierce on the parcel delivery market at home and abroad with low barriers to entry and we operate in a highly regulated environment already. The EU has plenty of tools (competition, infringement) at its disposal to address inappropriate practices if indeed they occur at all.”
The EC has also proposed a revision of the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation to give more powers to national authorities to better enforce consumer rights in a bid to increase consumer trust in e-commerce.
In the case of EU-wide breaches of consumer rights, the EC will be able to coordinate common actions with national enforcement authorities to stop these practices, ensuring a swifter protection of consumers, while saving time and resources for Member States and businesses.
V?ra Jourová, commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, said, “Too many people in Europe are hesitant to purchase online because they don’t know their rights or think they are hard to enforce. I want consumers to buy online as confidently as they would offline. We will give teeth to consumer protection authorities to better enforce consumer rights online and crack down on fraudulent practices. Today’s package is an important step to bring consumer protection up to speed with the online world and to give legal certainty to traders.”
May 25, 2016