Public consultation on the future of electronic commerce in the internal market and the implementation of the Directive on electronic commerce (2000/31/EC)

Policy field(s)
Internal market / Internal Market for services / Electronic commerce

Target group(s)
  • Ministries responsible for the various aspects of electronic commerce such as, in particular, ministries of Economic Affairs, Culture, Justice.
  • Economic operators of the information society (e.g. undertakings involved in electronic commerce, internet service providers, information service providers, on-line media, etc) and the professional associations which represent them.
  • The regulated professions, in particular pharmacists, lawyers and magistrates.
  • Citizens/consumers/patients having an interest in the question of electronic commerce and consumer associations.
  • Rightholders and organisations representing them.

However, comments from all other interested parties not-cited above are welcome and are encouraged by Commission services.

Period of consultation
The consultation period ended on 5 November 2010

Objective of the consultation
Electronic commerce constitutes an important means to promote cross-border trade, improving the accessibility of Europe’s population to more varied products, to more qualitative products, and exerting greater price competition in the on-line and off-line world. However, 10 years after the adoption of the “directive concerning certain legal aspects of information society services1 and, in particular, electronic commerce” the so-called Electronic Commerce Directive, the development of retail electronic commerce remains limited to less than 2% of European total retail trade.

The “Electronic Commerce” Directive (hereafter also named “the Directive”) aims to remove barriers to the establishment of providers of information society services and to the cross-border provision of on-line services in the internal market, therefore giving both to businesses and citizens legal certainty.

Technologically neutral, it covers a broad field: not only electronic commerce ( businesses-to-business and business-to-consumer) in the strictest sense (including on-line pharmacies), but also on-line newspapers, on-line financial services, services of regulated professions, etc. On-line gambling, however, is excluded2.

The Directive has five key provisions:

  • The internal market clause (Article 3)3 which, although subject to derogations, provides the legal certainty which is essential to the development of cross-border on-line services;
  • Requirements aimed at facilitating the development of providers of information society services, boosting confidence and strengthening legal security (Article 4): namely the prohibition of prior authorisations, obligations to provide information and ensure transparency with a view to ensure consumer confidence as well as the provision of a framework for commercial communications (Articles 6 to 8). It abolishes the prohibition of commercial communication for the regulated professions, enabling them to open internet sites, and leaves it to the professional associations to regulate such new practices in their codes of conduct.
  • The regulatory framework for electronic contracts (Articles 9 to 11), including the harmonisation of the conditions necessary for the conclusion of such contracts (e.g. the obligation for the service provider to acknowledge the receipt of the customer/user without undue delay and by electronic means).
  • The regulation of the exemptions of the liability of intermediaries (Section 4, Articles 12 to 15) with a view to ensuring, on the one hand, the provision of basic intermediary services guaranteeing the free movement of information on the network and, on the other, a legal framework enabling the development of the internet and electronic commerce.
  • Administrative cooperation (Articles 19 and 3.4), both between Member States and between the Member States and the European Commission, with a view to ensuring the proper implementation of the Directive, through mutual assistance and the setting up of contact points. It also encourages Member States to inform the European Commission of important administrative and legal decisions taken on their territory regarding disputes relating to information society services and of practices, usages and customs relating to electronic commerce.

The European Commission wishes to study in detail the various reasons for the limited takeoff of electronic commerce, as stated in the Retail Market Monitoring Report “Towards more efficient and fairer retail services in the internal market for 2020” (COM (2010) 355) and evaluate the implementation of the Directive, in accordance with its Article 21, as announced in the Communication “A Digital Agenda for Europe” (COM (2010) 245). For this purpose, Commission services wish to consult interested parties directly and receive their reaction and experience on a number of subjects:

  • The level of development, both national and cross-border, of information society services.
  • Issues concerning the application of Article 3(4) by the Member States (administrative cooperation).
  • Contractual restrictions on cross-border on-line sales.
  • Cross-border on-line commercial communications, in particular by the regulated professions.
  • The development of on-line press services.
  • The interpretation of the provisions concerning the liability of intermediary information society service providers.
  • The development of on-line pharmacy services
  • The resolution of on-line disputes.

1) As defined in Directive 98/48/CE: any Information Society service, that is to say, any service normally provided for remuneration, at a distance, by electronic means and at the individual request of a recipient of services.
2) On-line gambling will be the subject of a consultation scheduled for the second half of 2010.
3) Otherwise known as the “country of origin principle”: each Member State shall ensure that the information society services provided by a service provider established on its territory complies with the national provisions applicable in the Member State in question which fall within the “coordinated field”, even when he provides the service in another Member State.

View the questionnaire

Reference documents
Contributions received were added to the information already collected, in particular the two studies4 commissioned by the European Commission on the economic impact of the directive, completed in November 2007 and on the liability of intermediate internet service providers, completed in April 2008.

4) The Commission indicates that the conclusions of these studies represent the opinion of their authors and do not bind the institution.

Contact details
Responsible service: DG Internal Market and services,
Unit E2: Free movement of services and establishment II: Retail and information services
E-mail: markt-e-commerce@ec.europa.eu 
Postal address:
European Commission, DG Internal Market and Services
Rue Joseph Ⅱ 59
1049 Brussels – BELGIUM

Number of answers received

See the contributions received

For the sake of transparency, organisations have been invited to publish information by registering into the Register of interested representatives and undertaking to comply with its code of conduct. Contributions of organisations which are not registered are published separately.

Results of consultation and next steps
The result of this work will be taken into account in the Commission’s deliberations with a view to the adoption in september of 2011 of a Communication on electronic commerce, including on the impact of the Electronic Commerce Directive .

Last update: 11.01.2012