EU to put online market reform at the heart of consumer strategy
By Benjamin Fox
The European Commission has put reforming the continent's digital market at the heart of a drive to improve consumer rights, amid concerns about the efficiency of the online single market.
The proposal forms part of a European Consumer Agenda released on Tuesday (22 May) by the Commission aimed at increasing consumer confidence in the single market and is intended to operate in tandem with the EU's Digital Agenda strategy led by Commissioner Neelie Kroes.
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According to the Commission paper, "data shows that consumers shopping online across the EU have up to 16 times more products from which to choose, but fully 60% of consumers do not yet use this retail channel." In an internal paper on e-commerce released in January, the EU executive claimed that increasing the proportion of e-commerce sales to 15% of total retail would be worth €204 billion or 1.7% of GDP.
Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said that implementing the Consumer Agenda would increase online consumer confidence, stating that:
"We want to stimulate cross-border shopping online, and this is why the EU and its member states need to bring consumer rights into the digital age. We have taken first steps with the Consumer Rights Directive and with the proposal for modernised data protection rules to boost consumer confidence online."
The Commission paper also includes a pledge to table the long-waited legislation on collective rights management before the end of 2012, alongside discussion on private copying and reprography levies. Rights holders are frustrated that the Commission has dragged its feet on the issue, having promised to come forward with a directive on collective rights for nearly two years.
In its 2011 Intellectual Property Rights Strategy, the Commission promised to submit proposals before the end of last year, while Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier told MEPs that the directive was imminent in February.
The Commission also intends to set out plans this summer to make e-commerce more reliable with legislation on electronic identification and signatures. The EU executive also plans to tighten the rules on misleading advertising to increase the online protection of children.
In response, Monique Goyens, the director general of consumer lobby group BEUC, welcomed the Commission paper, although she stressed that "the litmus test will be the introduction of an EU-wide collective redress system that would benefit Europe's 500 million consumers."
She called on the EU executive to take a "concrete step to strengthen the consumer movement would be to apportion fines in EU competition cases or data protection breaches to projects promoting the consumer interest."