EU to Probe Cross-border E-commerce Obstacles

The European Commission (EC) is to launch an investigation into efforts by the region’s retail industry to prevent shoppers using websites outside their own countries, in the latest step towards a single European Union (EU) digital market.

EU competition commissioner Margarethe Vestager said that she expects to complete a general investigation by mid-2016, which could be followed by cases against specific companies.

“I, for one, cannot understand why I can watch my favourite Danish channels on my tablet in Copenhagen – a service I paid for – but I can’t when I’m in Brussels,” said Vestager. “Think of a French tourist who buys a pair of Italian shoes in Rome. Why is she re-routed to a French website when she tries to buy them online from home?”

Vestager said that the probe would “focus on the barriers to the cross-border sale of goods and digital content erected by private companies.” Consumers would benefit from a wider choice and lower prices, she added.

One cross-border barrier that the investigation is expected to focus on particularly is ‘geoblocking’, often used to prevent consumers from seeking cheaper prices abroad online or stop them using services such as the BBC iPlayer or Netflix when travelling.

Vestager also said that a single digital market could potentially add €340bn (£248bn/US$372bn) to EU gross domestic product and make Europe more competitive abroad at a time when economic growth remains sluggish.

She acknowledged that language barriers and different national laws make it difficult for consumers to shop abroad. “But often it’s the companies themselves that undermine cross-border trade by erecting technical barriers such as geo-blocking,” she said.

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