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Digital Single Market for business and consumers

Digital Single Market for business and consumers

A fully functional Digital Single Market would bring many benefits to European businesses and consumers. It would promote innovation, contribute 415 billion to the EU economy each year and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. As it relies on the cooperation of national public administrations, coordinated EU action is required. On 6 May 2015, the European Commission adopted an ambitious strategy to complete the Digital Single Market.

See the Digital Single Market Strategy or visit the Digital4EU platform to share your ideas and experience on digital issues.

Actions outlined in the strategy

Many actions outlined in the Digital Single Market Strategy are essential for the European internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The actions include:

Parcel delivery

Fast and efficient parcel deliveries are essential for a competitive e-commerce market. However, high costs, lack of transparency and the inconvenience of cross-border delivery of parcels ordered online are still limiting e-commerce, growth and jobs in the sector. To improve parcel delivery services in the EU, the Commission has already cooperated with the industry and other stakeholders with a self-regulation exercise that was concluded in June 2015.

In the Digital Single Market Strategy, the Commission will:

  • take action to improve regulatory oversight while supporting innovation and ensuring a level playing field for operators
  • address the issue of price transparency, including prices of small shipments. This action should support mainly consumers and small businesses. A comprehensive assessment of the situation will be carried out after two years to see if further action is needed.

More information on parcel delivery

E-commerce

E-commerce is transforming the retail sector. However, many consumers and retailers, especially SMEs, are unable to take advantage of it.

Different sets of rules for shopping and selling online discourage potential consumers from buying goods and services across borders. This also hinders access to new markets for entrepreneurs. In a recent survey 57% of companies said that they would increase their sales to other EU countries if the same rules applied throughout the EU.

In the Digital Single Market Strategy, the Commission proposes to allow sellers to rely on their national laws, further harmonising the main rights and obligations of the parties to a sales contract. The new approach would:

  • ensure that traders in the Internal Market are not deterred from cross-border trading by differences in mandatory national consumer contract laws;
  • provide consumers with a higher level of protection and give businesses greater freedom.

The Commission will table a legislative proposal by the end of 2015.

See the page on retail services for more information.

European platforms

Platforms play a central role in the digital ecosystem. They structure online activity by acting as intermediaries between consumers and businesses. This brings benefits to SMEs, who often face difficulties in making themselves visible online, and to the economy as a whole. European platforms can thus become a driver for growth and jobs.

The market power of platforms can also be disruptive, undermining the transparency and fairness that are needed in the Single Market. As platforms generate and control enormous amounts of data, this raises questions about how this data should be handled.

More information is needed before the Commission decides on possible action. The Commission will therefore launch an assessment of the role of platforms in the digital economy. It will focus on:

  • how platforms work;
  • the types of platforms that exist;
  • how they affect businesses – in particular B2B relations - customers, and the economy.

Collaborative economy

The 'collaborative economy' refers to business models offering new ways to provide and use services through online platforms. It covers many sectors, including passenger transport and accommodation, and involves three categories of actors: services providers who share assets, resources time and skills; users of these services; and online platforms which match providers and users.  

The collaborative economy enables a more efficient use of resources and provides new opportunities for Europe to create growth, jobs and benefits for consumers. In 2016, a Eurobarometer poll showed that more than half of all EU citizens know about the collaborative economy, and one person in six is already a user. But from the public policy perspective there is a need to address obstacles and regulatory uncertainties that can hamper the growth of new business models.

With the Communication on the European agenda for the collaborative economy, the Commission issued guidance on how existing EU law (the Services Directive, the e-Commerce Directive and consumer rules etc.) applies to collaborative economy business models and addressed policy recommendations to help citizens, businesses and EU countries fully benefit from the new business models and promote the balanced development of the collaborative economy.

See the page on the collaborative economy for more information.

Geo-blocking

Geo-blocking refers to practices used by online sellers that result in denial of access to websites based in other EU countries. It limits the choice of consumers and undermines their confidence in the Internal Market.

While geo-blocking may be necessary in certain cases to comply with legislation or be the result of restrictions imposed by suppliers, unjustified geo-blocking as a commercial practice amounts to consumer discrimination. The benefits of acting against geo-blocking are clear:

  • increased price transparency;
  • more competition in cross-border e-commerce;
  • greater availability of products for consumers.

The Commission intends to put an end to geo-blocking for commercial reasons and similar techniques, except for cases of well-defined exceptions. The Services Directive already prohibits discrimination of consumers based on their country of residence, both in the online and offline world. For instance, travellers asking for the same product should not face prices differing according to their country of residence.

See the page on the rights of recipients for more information.

'Big Data'

The last years have seen an enormous growth in the amount and availability of data. This goes beyond personal data to data generated in machine-to-machine or business-to-business interactions. This 'Big Data' makes predictive analysis much easier and more accurate. This in turn leads to more confident decision-making, greater operational efficiencies, cost reductions and reduced risk. As such, Big Data offers huge opportunities for new industrial, commercial, entrepreneurial and innovative activities, and could be a massive boon to the European economy.

The conditions need to be right for this data to be collected, stored, transmitted and analysed.  Businesses need to be clear about who owns the data at any point. The data also needs to be open and accessible to businesses who can make innovative and productive uses of it, rather than restricted to a few. 

The Commission will be analysing the problem as part of a 2016 initiative and will address the issues of ownership, interoperability, usability and access to data.

Standards and interoperability

Machines and devices using new technologies create great opportunities for businesses to provide new services. However, these machines and devices need to be interoperable, or there will be barriers to cross-border business. Such interoperability will also allow businesses to mix and change suppliers and thus have more choice. Standardisation in key areas would greatly help this interoperability, without reducing innovation.

The Commission will need a standardisation plan to identify and define key priorities for standardisation with a focus on new technologies and domains that are critical to the Digital Single Market. It will also promote the use of these standards through public procurement.

See the page on ICT standardisation for more information.

Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement

Europe needs creative and innovative businesses. Those businesses need to know that their innovation will be protected. The Commission is therefore going to make legislative proposals before the end of 2015 to:

  • reduce the differences between national copyright regimes;
  • allow wider online access to works by users across the EU. 

An effective and balanced civil enforcement system against commercial scale infringements of intellectual property rights (IPR) including copyright is central to investment in innovation and job creation. In addition, the rules applicable to activities of online intermediaries in relation to IP-protected works require clarification, given the growing involvement of these intermediaries in content distribution. Measures to safeguard fair remuneration of creators also need to be considered to encourage the future generation of content.

In 2016 the Commission will propose to modernise the enforcement of IPR, focusing on commercial-scale infringements (the 'follow the money' approach) as well as its cross-border applicability. These proposals will include the modernisation of the enforcement of IPR.

See the page on the enforcement of IPR for more information.

E-government

Many citizens and businesses embrace the possibilities of digital technology and expect the same kind of online experience from the public sector. This is often not the case. Authorities should:

  • provide user-friendly information online;
  • digitalise procedures as much as possible;
  • re-use information provided by citizens and companies as much as possible, including in a cross-border context.

Information about rules, procedures and assistance services is often unavailable online or dispersed over a variety of websites. The Commission has already made steps towards streamlining this information, for instance the Your Europe portal and the EUGO portal, but more can be done.

The Commission will therefore present a new e-Government Action Plan which will:

  • include mandatory interconnection of business registers by 2017;
  • launch an initiative with EU countries to pilot the 'Once-Only' principle;
  • extend and integrate European and national portals to work towards a 'Single Digital Gateway' to create a user-friendly information system for citizens and businesses providing online access to all the information, assistance services and procedures that they need;
  • accelerate EU countries' transition towards full e-procurement and interoperable e-signatures.
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