As part of its Digital Single Market Strategy, the European Parliament voted on January 19th to combat the practice of geo-blocking in order to boost e-commerce within the EU Internal Market.

According to a press release outlining this development, the recommendations proposed by the European Parliament to the Commission of the EU are as follows:

  • end unjustified geo-blocking practices, so as to improve EU consumers’ access to goods and services. MEPs welcome the proposal on cross-border portability of online content services “as a first step” in this direction,
  • ensure equivalent and future-proof consumer protection, regardless of whether digital content is purchased online or offline,
  • find innovative solutions on cross-border parcel delivery to improve services and lower costs,
  • remove barriers to SMEs, start-ups and scale-ups and seize the opportunities based on new ICT technologies, such as Big Data, cloud computing, the Internet of Things or 3D-printing; an innovation-friendly policy towards online platforms (e.g. search engines, app stores) that facilitates market entry should be maintained, and
  • review the ePrivacy directive to ensure consistency of its provisions with the new EU data protection rules.

It is worth noting that this release referenced EU data protection rules as well as the ePrivacy directive, which is not surprising since these aspects of e-commerce go hand-in-hand. In fact, in the first month of 2016 there seems to have been quite a great deal of focus on these topics.

On January 27th, the Commission published the first brief results of the public consultation, issued on September 24, 2015, on geo-blocking. More than 80% of consumer respondents indicated that they have experienced geo-blocking and other geographically-based restrictions. On the other hand, companies (which made up approximately 30% of the respondents to the consultation) pointed out the importance of contractual freedom and many were “strongly opposed to requiring traders to sell and deliver goods outside of the areas where they would normally do business.”

In fact, in a meeting of the Competitiveness Council in Amsterdam on January 28th, Commission VP Andrus Ansip emphasized the importance of removing geo-blocking practice, saying that, “the Commission is not trying to force businesses to charge the same prices as competitors in the EU, or to offer shipping to other EU countries if they do not already.” Therefore, geo-blocking will not be entirely eliminated, but, rather, better managed in such a way that it is not too prejudicial for consumers.

The contributions to the public consultations will be finalized shortly. The results of this consultation and the aforementioned resolution proposed by the European Parliament will serve as a basis for the Commission’s legislative proposal to combat geo-blocking, which is scheduled for mid-2016.