Building a single e-commerce market

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

This article is part of our special report Vulnerable Consumers.

The regulatory framework in Europe is still a barrier for growth for e-commerce, says Marc Lolivier.

Marc Lolivier is Vice President of public affairs at E-commerce Europe, a trade association representing online retailers, products and services.

"E-commerce has given consumers access goods and services from all over Europe. As such, e-commerce has contributed significantly to the European economy in general and the success of the European digital market in particular.

The e-commerce industry has grown spectacularly over the past two decades in a large number of EU member states, creating new business activities, lower prices and more choice for consumers. Europe already represents a bigger market than the US, and there is still and incredibly large potential for growth in European e-commerce, especially if the single digital market can be benefited from.

There are, however, still barriers to further growth. One of these barriers is the regulatory framework in Europe. Europe is still a patchwork of national markets and the absence of a truly harmonised regulatory framework in Europe hinders the further development of (cross-border) e-commerce and undermines consumer trust.

To strengthen the internal market, the European Commission has launched its Digital Agenda for Europe. In its Digital Agenda the Commission outlines its plans to create a vibrant single digital market. Ecommerce Europe welcomes the efforts of the European Commission in this area and wishes to contribute to this important effort.

For its part, Ecommerce Europe is calling for a fair balance between the need for strong consumer and citizens’ rights and proper functioning of the internal digital market. It believes consumer rights throughout Europe should to be harmonised at the highest level. However, this harmonisation process should not result in additional different national regulations.

Full harmonisation requires a thorough analysis of what is really needed to maintain and upgrade trust and confidence in e-commerce. The ultimate goal should be to set up the best rules for e-commerce in Europe, and not to reach an agreement on which existing national rules should be included in the European regulations.

E-commerce Europe is also convinced that self-regulation and alternative dispute resolution can play a major part in building up a European single e-commerce market. Self-regulation should not replace legislation but it can be a very useful complementary tool for setting up a suitable and flexible regulatory framework which can be easily adapted to new practices and new technologies.

Finally, E-commerce Europe strongly believes that transparency and information will be the drivers for the European Single e-commerce market. They are the absolute keywords. The open nature of the Internet has placed the consumer in the driver’s seat. Consumers are able to change gear quickly and make choices, and are punishing the lack of confidence and information.  Online merchants would do well to inform consumers as fully as possible. Transparency is, and will remain, one of E-commerce Europe’s core values."

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