The numbers speak for themselves. Despite the potential of online shopping, only 6% of European consumers engage in cross-border e-commerce. Of those who attempt it, 33% find that businesses refuse to sell their goods or services because the buyer and seller are not resident in the same country. Overall, European consumer and business confidence in the digital environment is low. A report adopted on Tuesday by the Internal Market Committee sets out how to remedy the situation.
As the report notes, the lack of confidence in online sales - and the legal uncertainty associated with it - is one of the main reasons why Europe lags behind the United States and Asia in certain aspects of e-commerce. It is "regrettable", MEPs in the committee say in their report, "that the EU currently has no strategy of its own that would help resolve the situation". With that in mind, the committee calls on the European Commission to propose a strategy for increasing consumer confidence, to take steps to make e-business more attractive, and to stop the fragmentation of the internal market in the digital environment - that is to improve access to goods and services offered online in another Member State.
To start with, says the report, a new e-confidence initiative is necessary. Such an initiative should include, among other things:
-a grant programme for projects aimed at increasing consumer confidence;
-an electronic teaching module relating to consumer protection and users' rights in e-commerce;
-educational and information projects designed to raise SMEs' awareness of cross-border online sales;
-an early-warning system, including a database, to combat online fraud.
At the same time, "a clearer and improved" consumer acquis, "oriented towards horizontal legal instruments and the harmonisation of certain aspects of consumer contract law" - and comprising, among other things, directives on distance selling of financial services and e-commerce - would be needed, argues the report. The Commission, MEPs advise, should also take action on "collective redress mechanisms for cross border [business-to-consumer] disputes in the digital environment".
E-rights and wrongs
The report also makes recommendations pertaining to the rights of internet shoppers. It proposes a "European charter of users' rights" that would clarify the rights and obligations of online shoppers and retailers. It suggests the creation of an information system, which would offer consumers detailed guidance about their rights and call on the Commission to make the supply chain in e-business more transparent.
Lastly, MEPs in the committee ask the Commission to initiate steps to set up a European online trust mark.
The report, drawn up by Zuzana Roithová (EPP-ED, CZ), was adopted unanimously.