The European Commission has today launched an antitrust competition inquiry into the e-commerce sector in the European Union. The inquiry, as announced by Commissioner Vestager in March, will allow the Commission to identify possible competition concerns affecting European e-commerce markets. It complements actions launched within the framework of the Digital Single Market Strategy adopted today.
The sector inquiry will focus particularly on potential barriers erected by companies to cross-border online trade in goods and services where e-commerce is most widespread such as electronics, clothing and shoes, as well as digital content. Knowledge gained through the sector inquiry will contribute to better enforcement of competition law in the e-commerce sector.
Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said, "European citizens face too many barriers to accessing goods and services online across borders. Some of these barriers are put in place by companies themselves. With this sector inquiry my aim is to determine how widespread these barriers are and what effects they have on competition and consumers. If they are anti-competitive we will not hesitate to take enforcement action under EU antitrust rules."
More and more goods and services are traded over the internet but cross-border online sales within the EU are only growing slowly. The Commission's Digital Single Market Strategy published today identifies a number of regulatory barriers that hinder cross-border e-commerce. It proposes to address these and create an area where citizens and businesses can seamlessly access and exercise online activities under conditions of free competition, irrespective of their nationality or place of residence.
There are also indications that businesses may themselves establish barriers to cross-border online trade, with a view to fragmenting the EU's Single Market along national borders and preventing competition. Those barriers may include contractual restrictions in distribution agreements that prevent retailers from selling goods or services purchased online or cross-border to customers located in another EU country.
Therefore, the Commission's competition sector inquiry will gather market information in order to better understand the nature, prevalence and effects of these and similar barriers erected by companies, and to assess them in light of EU antitrust rules.
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).
In the coming weeks, the Commission will send requests for information to a range of stakeholders throughout the EU. The companies concerned may include, for example, manufacturers and wholesalers as well as e-commerce retailers. Under EU antitrust rules the Commission can require companies and trade associations to supply information, documents or statements as part of a sector inquiry.
The Commission expects to publish a preliminary report for consultation in mid-2016. The final report is expected in the first quarter of 2017.
Please also see Commissioner Vestager's speech announcing the proposal to launch the sector inquiry dated 26 March 2015.