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Marlene ten Ham: ‘The e-commerce sector is booming and needs a policy framework that fits the future’.

Ecommerce Europe is the association representing 25,000+ companies selling goods and/or services online to consumers in Europe. European Business Review had an exclusive interview with the Secretary General of the association, Mrs Marlene ten Ham

By: N. Peter Kramer - Posted: Friday, September 16, 2016

Ecommerce Europe recognises that the proposal for a parcel delivery regulation has the potential to help creating a level playing field for competing postal-, courier- and express operators and thereby in the end for online merchants in the European Union (EU).
Ecommerce Europe recognises that the proposal for a parcel delivery regulation has the potential to help creating a level playing field for competing postal-, courier- and express operators and thereby in the end for online merchants in the European Union (EU).

by  N. Peter Kramer

On our first question how her association looks at the European Commission’s eCommerce Package, launched just before summer, Mrs ten Ham answered:

In general, we support the objectives of the Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy. Its eCommerce Package in particular, which contains several legislative and policy initiatives with the aim of boosting online sales in Europe, is for us a very important part of this strategy. The Package represents good progress and some of the online merchants’ recommendations have been taken into account. However, there are still some critical underlying problems, such as legal fragmentation, which are not being addressed by the package.  We want to stress that the real problems in e-commerce are related to the fact that we still haven’t attained a real, fully harmonized Single Market. Neither offline nor online. Therefore, legislative initiatives should focus more on removing the remaining barriers to cross-border trade that are, for instance, the intrinsic causes of geoblocking practices and inefficient parcel delivery, rather than solely trying to tackle its consequences. We will continue to work with European policy makers to ensure that we get to the roots of the problems. 

What does this mean in practical terms?

Well, according to the Commission’s proposal on geoblocking, foreign consumers will be allowed to “shop like locals”, under certain conditions of course. It means, in practice, that when an online shop is not directing its sales to a specific country, this will always be treated as a passive sale, so the shop will be allowed to apply their home country rules and laws. But the proposal needs more clarification on this point. We want to be 100% sure that online merchants will always be allowed to apply their national law without being forced to deal with laws of countries that they are not actively targeting. 

Overall, online merchants are pleased to see that the proposal will not impose an obligation to deliver to all EU Member States and that they are free to set their pricing policies. Ecommerce Europe has always been strongly opposed to such an obligation to deliver. Such an option would impose disproportionate costs to online merchants and it would also be a breach of the freedom of entrepreneurial activity! Once more, according to our interpretation, the proposal will impose an “obligation to sell to everyone” but not to deliver everywhere and this must always lead to the application of the laws and rules of the country of the traders. In this case, potential negative effects on consumers must also be taken into account, such as disappointment or frustration for products not fir for the consumer’s market. 

What are your comments on the Commission’s proposal on cross-border parcel delivery services? Another important part of the eCommerce Package.

Ecommerce Europe recognises that the proposal for a parcel delivery regulation has the potential to help creating a level playing field for competing postal-, courier- and express operators and thereby in the end for online merchants in the European Union (EU). The proposed regulation will allow swift action and avoids further regulatory fragmentation which could result from other legal instruments. The Regulation is a good start to increase in visibility on cross-border parcel markets. Online merchants need to be able to benefit from better prices, even when sending lower volumes.

We have been very vocal in opposing any type of price regulation, therefore we have expressed our support for the Commission’s cautious approach which leaves room for case-by-case assessment by national governments. Ecommerce Europe will however continue its work with service providers and policy makers to ensure that we come closer to a global level playing field accessible to all players through the use of open information- and label standards. Only when standards and interfaces are interoperable across providers and across borders, we can truly reduce the burdens and costs for merchants and increase innovation in the delivery value chain.

The President of Ecommerce Europe, François Momboisse, stressed the end of May during your Annual Conference in Barcelona, that online trading is here to stay.

No doubts about that! The European e-commerce turnover managed to increase 13.3% to €455.3 billion market share in 2015 and is planned to reach the €500 billion mark this year. Compared to the 1.0% growth of the general retail in Europe, the e-commerce sector is booming and going to internationalise, strategise, look ahead, and address the consumer of the future. For that, we need a policy framework which is fit for the future. 

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