Improving EU e-Commerce

The Commission is looking to boost online sales as part of it drive to create a more a competitive EU internal market. The goal of the new e-Commerce initiative, presented this week by the Commission, is to double the share of e-commerce in EU retail sales (currently 3.4%) by 2015.
The Commission says that if 15% of retail sales were e-commerce, the gains for consumers might be as much as € 204 billion, or 1.7 % of European GDP.

There remain however a number of obstacles which prevent consumers and businesses from investing fully in online services. The Communication contains an Action Plan with 16 targeted initiatives designed to address these challenges and enable e-commerce to flourish.

Current Obstacles

Five main obstacles to developing the e-commerce market are identified in the Communication. 
• Consumers cannot access legal online services provided by companies of other Member States
• Online service operators often lack important information on cross-border e-commerce sales. Internet users are not protected
• Payment and delivery systems are still inadequate
• A large number of abuse and dispute cases, which are difficult to settle, have recently occurred
• High-speed communication networks are not used in an efficient way

Main Priorities

In order to tackle these problems, the Commission sets out five main priorities to boost the e-commerce market.
• Enabling consumer access to a wide range of products and services
• Improving information on e-commerce for online services providers and for consumers
• Ensuring that payment and delivery systems concerning online sales of products and services are   reliable and efficient
• Combating abuses and promoting effective dispute mechanisms 
• Encouraging the development of high speed communication networks

Enabling Consumer Access

In order to achieve this goal, the Commission intends to extend the Internal Market Information System (IMI) and the Consumer Protection Cooperation network (CPC) so that the E-commerce Directive and the Directives protecting consumers online are correctly implemented.  According to the Communication, the Directive on Electronic Commerce has managed to ensure legal certainty and to boost confidence for both consumers and businesses in cross border online transactions.  This is why the smooth implementation of the Directive is important.

The Commission also intends to ensure that the EU strategy for intellectual property rights is implemented well, review the Directive on copyright and put forward proposals to create a legal framework for the collective management of copyright. It also intends to report on the results of consultation on online distribution of audio-visual work and combat unfair business practices and examining problems caused by businesses who misuse their power to obstruct the activity of new online operators.

Improving e-Commerce Information

Both providers and users of online services must be able to access easily complete, reliable and transparent information on their activities. To fulfil this goal, the Commission has announced that it will improve information on rules governing e-commerce through the Enterprise Europe Network and the European Consumer Centres (CPC) Network.

In particular, the Enterprise Europe Network will supply online dealers with information on their obligations in the context of cross-border sales and on the opportunities offered by sale in Member States. The Commission also plans to strengthen the role of the (CPC) network by encouraging the development of the skills of the network's enforcers.

Codes of conduct and good practice for businesses and guidelines for consumers will also be prepared. This will allow them to compare prices and quality of products. The Commission also intends to present an Action Plan on online gambling, which will aim to strengthen cooperation between Member States and protection of consumers.

Ensuring Efficient Payment and Delivery

E-commerce is largely based on distance electronic payments. This is why effective delivery operation of the delivery system for products is very important for consumers. In addition, consumers must feel confident enough that the online payments are secure and fast.

In order to ensure a high level delivery and payment system for online sales, the Commission plans to develop a strategy on the integration of markets for payments by cards, internet or mobile phone and launch a public consultation on parcels delivery in order to identify the problems encountered by consumers and businesses.

Combating Abuses

There are a large number of businesses which host or passively transmit illegal content, which discourages companies from conducting business online. If a problem arises in relation to an online purchase, consumers must be able to solve it in an easy and fast way.

To deal with these matters, the Commission plans to adopt a horizontal initiative on notice and action procedures in 2012. Notice and action procedures involve removing or blocking access to illegal content by an online company, after it has received a request to do so. Internet users can submit a notification of illegal content that they have found displayed on the website of an online intermediary.

The Commission also plans to set out an overall strategy on internet security in Europe. To this end, the Commission intends to further establish the European Cybercrime Centre by 2013, with the aim of ensuring a high level of protection consumers against cyber-attacks.

High Speed Communication Networks

The Commission wants to further develop high speed communication networks. In order to fulfil this goal, the Commission will enhance the development of information and communication structures in 2012 by:
• Preparing guidelines for infrastructure projects
• Drafting guidelines for smart specialisation strategies which must be implemented in order to benefit from regional funding 
• Adopting a recommendation on access-pricing schemes in the wholesale market 
• Preparing a guide on cost reduction techniques for construction works with the aim of reducing them by half
The Commission will also present an overall strategy on cloud computing and adopt a Communication on spectrum-sharing, including a strategy for the promotion of shared access to the spectrum in the Single Market.

Next Steps

The Communication will be sent to the European Parliament and the Council for consideration. The Commission intends to follow up on the actions mentioned in the Action Plan, and will publish annual reports on the development of e-commerce in Europe.