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Brussels, 23 April 2001

E-confidence initiative: Time for stakeholders to draw conclusions

It is called the e-confidence barrier: e-commerce only accounts for around one percent of retail sales in Europe. While internet penetration is growing rapidly, consumer confidence in e-commerce and cross-border transactions remain low. Although there has been an ever-expanding number of codes, trustmarks and other schemes aimed at improving e-confidence, their sheer number and variety is such that they tend to confuse consumers more than they enlighten. The European Commission's e-confidence initiative has been a practical response to this deficit. It has brought together for a first time a range of business and consumer groups with an interest in e-commerce codes and guidelines to build the "e-confidence" of consumers. Initiated in May 2000, stakeholders such as BEUC, UNICE and GBDe members will meet today for the last time under the umbrella of the e-confidence initiative to draw conclusions on general principles as an agreed basis for good practice in e-commerce.

Commissioner David Byrne, responsible for Health and Consumer Protection, said: "We are at a crucial stage. General principles for good e-commerce trading practices would be an important step in tackling the e-confidence barrier. They would be a good basis on which to build." More still needs to be done to get consumers online. David Byrne: "I think there needs to be clarity and certainty about what core standards in e-commerce mean. And I think there needs to be a fair and credible system to ensure that agreed standards are implemented in practice. These seem to me to be the essential elements on which consumer confidence can be based."

The Commission will in a next step discuss internally how to move forward in this area, but also in consultation with Member States and the European Parliament in view to bring forward a recommendation. At the same time the Commission encourages stakeholders and participants in the e-confidence initiative to continue negotiations directly to develop generic codes and specific guidelines for the sale of goods and services to consumers on the internet as well as guiding principles for 'approval and monitoring' bodies. David Byrne: "What is important is that whatever approval and monitoring approach is taken, it is fair, credible, cost-effective and will ensure that agreed standards are implemented in practice. Standards are, after all, only as good as their implementation. And a consistent implementation is important for business to have level standards across the internal market. It is also necessary for consumers to have tangible commitments that they can depend on in practice."

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