European ecommerce sector demands same rules for online and offline in EU Single Market

November 2015
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Ecommerce Europe, the association representing 25,000+ companies selling goods and/or services online to consumers in Europe, has recommended the European Commission to issue the same legal framework for online and offline businesses.

These recommendations came as a result of EC's proposed regulation in regard to the Digital Single Market agenda on the 28th of October, 2015, stressing mainly the online business across borders. The new strategy has the potential to help creating a true European Single Market for consumers and businesses.

However, to ensure that the Single Market Strategy will create a European landscape where both the cross-border online and offline retail sectors can flourish, the association for the European ecommerce sector recommends policy makers not to create parallel legal frameworks.

Ecommerce Europe strongly believes in full harmonization of legal frameworks for cross-border sales in Europe and asks for the same provisions for online and offline shops, as this would reduce confusion and increase legal certainty of businesses. Ecommerce Europe understands and supports the Commission's efforts to focus in particular on cross-border online sales - as announced in Digital Single Market Strategy - considering the many barriers that still exist for online merchants.

However, new proposals should not create two different legal regimes for the same product when it is sold online and/or offline. To ensure the Single Market Strategy is fit for the retail sector of the future, it is crucial that the principle of equal treatment for online and offline sales is at the core of its reasoning. Ecommerce Europe welcomes the Commission's focus on helping SMEs and start-ups to grow, as often they are retained from expanding cross-border due to significant barriers, such as complicated VAT rules.

Ecommerce Europe believes that the European ecommerce sector can only remain competitive on a global scale when competition enforcement takes a dynamic approach and gives priority to entry possibilities for newcomers, such as SMEs and start-ups, while protecting consumers. Innovation policy and financing schemes should not fear disruption, but recognise the major opportunities for growth and jobs that lie in the internet economy.

The Commission wants to make legislative proposals to end unjustified discrimination and geo-blocking practices in order to make it possible for consumers to have more access to online markets. Ecommerce Europe asks the EU regulators to be cautious in order to ensure that only unjustified practices will be forbidden.

Differentiation in price and conditions should be allowed if there is an objective reason at the basis of the pricing policy decision. It is therefore crucial that online merchants can rely on their right to economic freedom and freedom of entrepreneurial activity based upon grounded reasons. In any case, the new rules should not lead to an obligation for online retailers to sell everywhere in the European Union, as online companies can have many objective reasons for not doing so.

European Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska - in charge of Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs - declared that many rules for the functioning of the internal market already exist and that these existing rules just need better enforcement for the well-functioning of the internal market. Ecommerce Europe supports the approach that the launch of formal infringement procedures towards those countries which fail to implement Single Market legislation effectively is essential to ensure commitment from Member States towards one EU Single Market.