This week has a strong focus on the digital economy. It is the focus of your conference, and it was also the focus of the Commission.
As you know, in the Commission we adopted yesterday the mid-term review of the Digital Single Market Strategy.
This was an important occasion to take stock on where we are in implementing this big project.
The aim of the Digital Single Market is to bring down existing barriers that hamper the growth of cross-border e-commerce and to send a strong signal for innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe.
But it is at the same time about allowing consumers to access better offers and greater supply of goods and services, while maintaining and enforcing their protection. A win-win for both sides.
The Commission has made 35 proposals, and they focus on areas where the EU can bring specific added value. We concentrate on European digital projects whose scope and scale cannot be realised by individual countries alone.
The proposals are now being discussed by the European Parliament and the Member States. And it is time for the legislators to advance this process and to finalise the adoption of these proposals so that they deliver on their potential.
This wake-up call message is also key in our Mid-Term Review of the Digital Single Market Strategy. And it will only have an effect if all stakeholders, including you, are contributing to it.
I would like to mention in particular the Digital Contracts proposals as they are an important strand of the strategy. They aim to eliminate contract law-related barriers to online and digital purchases which – as we know well – are one of the key impediments why we still do not see enough cross-border e-commerce in the European Union. We therefore need to make a jump ahead to keep pace with our competitors such as the US.
Our targeted fully harmonised digital contract rules will improve consumer protection and conditions for businesses selling products and services across borders. They will reduce the differences between national consumer contract laws and remove one of the main reasons why businesses ‘geo-block'.
Good progress has already been made by co-legislators on the proposal on digital content. We expect a breakthrough at the June Justice Council and the start of trilogues with the European Parliament in October. The Estonian incoming Presidency is keen to bring this file to finalisation.
And it is equally important to quickly achieve concrete results on the rules for tangible goods as they represent more than 80% of trade. We need concrete progress there if we want to deliver on our promise for tangible benefits for EU consumers and businesses.
Let me add another dimension which is relevant for consumers. The development of cross-border online retail trade which we want to foster further with our digital contracts proposal poses specific challenges for the enforcement of EU consumer legislation.
These challenges are linked to the dynamics of online and mobile trade, characterised by the dematerialisation of transactions; the emergence of increasingly sophisticated online business models; the development of direct online sales of goods and services from non-EU countries; and the need to overcome jurisdictional boundaries where online trade knows no borders.
Moreover, national authorities often lack the resources and skills to perform online market surveillance. Their enforcement powers and systems also vary, which poses particular concerns in case of cross-border infringements.
This is why we proposed to strengthen the rules on cooperation between national consumer protection authorities. They will be beneficial for the market. A satisfied consumer with his/her rights well protected and redress quickly acquired is a happy consumer who spends more. Businesses operating in most or all Member States will benefit from a one-stop-shop approach.
A possibility to negotiate commitments at the EU level will make it simpler, faster and cheaper for the businesses concerned to resolve consumer issues.
More consistent enforcement of consumer legislation across Europe will reduce legal uncertainty and legal expertise costs when marketing cross-border.
We are making good progress on this important file, and I am positive that we will conclude this still under the very committed Maltese Presidency.
Let me finally give you an outlook on the results of the Consumer legislation Fitness Check. I will be presenting the outcome of the evaluation and possible further actions to the Competitiveness Council on 29 May.
However, I can already reassure you that the current results of the Fitness Check indicate that, substance-wise, EU consumer and marketing law by and large remains fit for purpose provided that it is effectively applied and enforced.
Like many respondents to our public consultation, we think that there is no need for a major overhaul of our legislation and that the key priority is improving enforcement, maybe combined with some targeted legislative steps to be considered.
One year ago – as part of the E-commerce package – the Commission adopted a revised Guidance on the application of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive which is a key piece of EU consumer and marketing law. The Guidance explains the Directive's application specifically in the online sector, i.e. to platforms, app stores, search engines, comparison tools, social media etc.
These market players often only are intermediaries but they are nevertheless subject to the consumer law rules whenever they act as "traders". They must act with due professional diligence, and in particular must respect the transparency requirements. The Guidance also integrates the "Key principles for comparison tools" developed by a multi-stakeholder group set up by the European Commission. I call on businesses to follow those principles.
Building on this and in order to adapt the existing rules to the digital economy context, targeted transparency rules for online intermediaries (platforms) could be discussed, in particular as regards information about the identity and status of third party suppliers. We cannot however overburden the European digital sector with unnecessary regulation that would not answer to the quick dynamism with which the ICT sector develops.
In closing, allow me to mention the data protection regulation - our key piece of legislation and the foundation of the Digital Single Market. This will become applicable in May 2018. It will remove barriers and unlock opportunities. It will provide solid uniform standards for data protection so that consumers can be sure they are in control of their personal information. We should not see privacy and data protection as holding back economic activities. They are, in fact, an essential competitive advantage.
The Commission is working closely with Member States to accompany them in the process of adapting or repealing their existing laws as necessary. We also accompany closely the work of the data protection authorities in the WP 29 on the guidelines and we are in close dialogue with business to support their preparation. We will launch campaigns focused on you, representatives of business this year as well as on citizens next year who also need to understand what will change for them.
Dear ladies and gentlemen, the Digital Single Market is a project that finds the support of the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. We have a unique chance to get this right, also with your help, and to develop our regulatory environment so that it will be beneficial for both consumers and businesses. Let's not waste this opportunity. Thank you for your attention.