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'Why don't you buy from foreign sites?' asks Commish, snapping on the gloves

Competition Commissioner announces e-commerce probe

The European Commission is to probe the e-commerce sector to find out why people aren’t buying across borders.

According to the Commish, despite half of all EU consumers shopping online, only around 15% of them bought from a seller based in another EU country. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager suspects that: “It’s often the companies themselves that undermine cross-border trade by erecting technical barriers, such as geo-blocking. Geo-blocking prevents consumers from accessing certain websites on the basis of their residence, or credit-card details.”

However, while announcing the sector investigation, she added: “Some barriers [to a digital single market] are due to public policies.” But the enquiry will focus on private – and in particular contractual – barriers to cross-border e-commerce in digital content and goods.

Vestager is clearly on the same page as robo-veep Andrus Ansip, who yesterday said “deep in my heart, I really hate geo-blocking” although he did concede that it may be necessary in certain very specific circumstances such as when online gambling is illegal in a member state. Ansip announced yesterday that he would present concrete proposals to create a true digital single market in early May.

The probe will see questionnaires sent to companies throughout the EU, including content rights holders, broadcasters, manufacturers, merchants of goods sold online and the companies that run online platforms such as price-comparison and marketplace websites.

The results of the inquiry will be analysed and used to inform future competition law, but the Commish warned that if it finds evidence of abuse of dominant market positions or restrictive business practices, it could open individual cases against the offending companies.

“Personally, I find it very useful that I can send flowers to my American relatives with just a few clicks. We simply cannot miss the opportunities offered by technologies that – in principle – are indifferent to the borders between countries and continents. European consumers should be able to access goods, content and other services no matter where they live and travel in Europe,” said Vestager.

Preliminary findings are expected in mid-2016. ®

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