EU seeks to dismantle cross-border barriers for online shoppers

The European Union should introduce new rules to stop websites from denying access to online shoppers from other member states, the bloc's executive proposed Wednesday, as part of an effort to boost e-commerce in the 28-country bloc.

"All too often people are blocked from accessing the best offers when shopping online," European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip said in a statement.

"Discrimination between EU consumers based on the objective to segment markets along national borders has no place in the [EU] single market," EU Internal Market Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska added.

The EU has stepped up its efforts to break down barriers to internet traffic, in a bid to bolster e-commerce and help European internet companies in a field dominated by US giants such as Google.

The phenomenon of geoblocking, which results in online shoppers from other member states 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 new rules it proposed Wednesday would forbid geoblocking for the sale of products that are not delivered; the sale of electronically supplied services such as website hosting and data storage; and the sale of services provided in a physical location such as car rentals.

The commission is also seeking to ban geoblocking practices such as blocking access to websites or automatically re-routing a customer to his national website without giving him or her a choice.

Online traders would additionally be prohibited from discriminating against customers based on the country of origin of their payment method when payments are made through electronic transactions, the customer's identity can be verified and the payment is made in a currency that the vendor accepts.

Traders would, however, not be obliged to sell and deliver across Europe.

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

The geoblocking proposals are part of a reform package the commission unveiled Wednesday as part of its bid to create a digital single market in the EU.

The other measures seek to introduce more transparency and competition in the prices for cross-border price delivery and offer online customers more protection.

In a separate audiovisual package, the commission also proposed Wednesday to have European films and television series be offered more consistently on online streaming services and for television stations more flexibility when it comes to advertising airtime.

"I want online platforms and the audiovisual and creative sectors to be powerhouses in the digital economy," Ansip said. "They need the certainty of a modern and fair legal environment: that is what we are providing today."

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

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