Dr. Nils Rauer, Partner at Hogan Lovells, on the European Commission’s plans to tackle geo-blocking.
Creating a Digital Single Market
In the European Commission’s plan to create a unified Digital Single Market, the measures to promote e-Commerce are well ranked. A reason for that is the increasing impact that the digital world, and especially online shopping, is having on our lives. The Internet per se recognizes no border, and therefore artificial barriers may feel even more misplaced. To tackle those obstacles to cross-border online activity, the European Commission launched a series of legislative proposals, some of which have already been enacted by the European legislator.
One of these recently enacted pieces of law (read more about it here) is once again coming under the spotlight, as the Commission recently updated its detailed guidance on the Geo-blocking Regulation (EU) 2018/302. The underlying aim of the regulation is to ban unjustified geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination based on customers’ nationality, place of residence or place of establishment within the digital internal market. The term geo-block as such relates to the phenomenon that Internet users are either re-directed to another website or provided with differing terms & conditions because of their IP address or other identifiers. Accordingly, the Geo-Blocking Regulation includes provisions addressing online discrimination occurring when one accesses a website (Article 3), buys goods or services online (Article 4), or wants to do shopping abroad using means of payment labelled in Euros (Article 5).
Boost to e-commerce
Commenting on the publication of the new geo-blocking guidance, the Commissioner for Digital Single Market and Vice President of the European Commission Andrus Ansip declared: “To make the new rules work properly, all parties involved need to be fully informed and committed to applying them in their daily work. This guidance is part of the Commission’s broader efforts to boost e-commerce, through its proposals to simplify VAT rules, facilitate cross-border parcel delivery and payments, and strengthen consumer protection.”
A broader e-commerce framework
The Q&A list provided by the Commission in relation to the new regulation covers a comprehensive range of aspects. It is intended for the traders seeking to comply with the new rules, as well as for consumers seeking more information about their new rights, and Member States authorities who will have to apply and enforce the dispositions. The questions cover both the substantive provisions and the enforcement tools put in place to achieve the goal of the Regulation. The guidance also features a section putting the regulation in context by exploring how the new piece of legislation fits in the broader e-commerce framework, including its interaction with the Regulation (EU) 2018/644 on cross-border parcel delivery services, the Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU and specific VAT rules.