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European Commission - Press release

Competition: Commissioner Vestager announces proposal for e-commerce sector inquiry

Brussels, 26 March 2015

The European Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager announced today at a conference in Berlin a forthcoming proposal to launch a competition inquiry in the e-commerce sector. More and more goods and services are traded over the internet in Europe. At the same time, cross-border online sales within the EU are only growing slowly. This is partly due to language barriers, consumer preferences and differences in legislation across Member States. However, there are also indications that some companies may be taking measures to restrict cross-border e-commerce. The sector inquiry would focus on better identifying and addressing these measures, in line with the Commission's priorities to create a connected Digital Single Market. Commissioner Vestager will table her proposal to the Commission in the coming weeks.

Commissioner Vestager stressed: “It is high time to remove remaining barriers to e-commerce, which is a vital part of a true Digital Single Market in Europe. The envisaged sector inquiry will help the Commission to understand and tackle barriers to e-commerce to the benefit of European citizens and business.”

European citizens are enthusiastic users of online services. In 2014, around half of all EU consumers shopped online. Yet, only around 15% of them bought online from a seller based in another EU Member State. This indicates that significant cross-border barriers to e-commerce still exist within the EU. For example, technical barriers, such as geo-blocking, may prevent consumers from accessing certain websites on the basis of their residence or credit-card details.

Commissioner Vestager has therefore decided to propose to the College of Commissioners to launch a competition inquiry in the e-commerce sector, to contribute to the Commission's objectives of achieving a Digital Single Market.

The sector inquiry will focus on private – and in particular contractual - barriers to cross-border e-commerce in digital content and goods. In the course of the inquiry the Commission intends to gather information from a large number of stakeholders in all Member States.

Knowledge gained through the sector inquiry will not only contribute to enforcing competition law in the e-commerce sector but also to various legislative initiatives which the Commission plans to launch to boost the Digital Single Market.

If, after analysing the results, the Commission identified specific competition concerns, it could open case investigations to ensure compliance with EU rules on restrictive business practices and abuse of dominant market positions (Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - TFEU).

This announcement comes one day after the college discussed the Digital Single Market Strategy to be unveiled in May 2015.

Background

Competition sector inquiries are investigations that the Commission may carry out when it has indications that a sector is not working as well as it should. The Commission uses the information obtained in the inquiry to better understand the market from the perspective of competition policy and to identify issues that could restrict competition.

The Commission has conducted competition inquiries in various sectors, including energy, financial services and pharmaceuticals. More information on the Commission’s previous sector inquiries is available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/comm/competition/antitrust/sector_inquiries.html

IP/15/4701

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