The e-Commerce Directive 2000/31/EC has created the basic legal framework for online services, including electronic commerce in the Internal Market. The purpose of the Directive is to remove obstacles to cross-border online services in the European Union and provide legal certainty to business and citizens in cross-border online transactions.

The Electronic Commerce Directive (e-Commerce Directive 2000/31/EC), adopted in 2000, sets up an Internal Market framework for electronic commerce, which provides legal certainty for business and consumers alike.

The Directive establishes harmonised rules on issues such as the transparency and information requirements for online service providers, commercial communications, electronic contracts and limitations of liability of intermediary service providers. It also enhances administrative cooperation between the Member States and the role of self-regulation.

The Digital Single Market and the e-Commerce Directive

One of the 16 initiatives of the Digital Single Market strategy, adopted on 6 May 2015, aims to define an appropriate e-commerce framework and preventing unfair discrimination against consumers and businesses when they try to access content or buy goods and services online within the EU.

Examples of services covered by the Directive include:

  • online information services,
  • online selling of products and services,
  • online advertising,
  • professional services,
  • entertainment services and basic intermediary services. These services include also services provided free of charge to the recipient and funded, for example, by advertising or sponsorship.

The public consultations

The Commission launched two Public Consultations on 24 September 2015 as part of the review of the e-Commerce Directive:

The Commission is assessing whether EU rules on e-commerce framework are still up to date in our online environment, and whether they have helped European citizens and bussinesses access the common EU market when buying goods and services online.

The Commission seeks the views of consumers, public authorities, NGOs, SMEs and other businesses, and any other interested stakeholders. Please have your say.

The Directive

The Internal Market clause

The internal market clause is a key principle of the eCommerce Directive ensuring that providers of online services (information society services, in the terminology of the Directive) are subject to the law of the Member State in which they are established and not to the law of the Member States where the service is accessible.

Basic rules for eCommerce

The Directive sets out basic requirements on mandatory consumer information, steps to follow in online contracting and rules on commercial communications (rules on online advertisement and unsolicited commercial communications).

Liability of Intermediaries

The Directive exempts intermediaries from liability for the content they manage if they fulfil certain conditions:

  • service providers hosting content, once they are aware of the illegal nature of the hosted content, they need to remove it or disable access to it expeditiously.
  • to be covered by the liability exemption they have to play a neutral, merely technical and passive role towards the hosted content.

Member States cannot impose to intermediaries any general obligation to monitor the content they manage.

The Commission, in its Staff Working Document on online services, including e-commerce, in the Single Market (2012), reported on the functioning of the Directive and identified that the liability regime outlined in it needed some clarification. It also announced a horizontal initiative on notice and action procedures.

A public consultation on The future of electronic commerce already took place in 2010, and a public consultation on notice-and-action procedures followed on 2012. Both will equally feed the present work on the Digital Single Market (DSM) Strategy.

Expert group

The Expert group was established on 24 October.

Its objectives are:

  • to enhance/facilitate administrative co-operation between Member States and Member States and the Commission
  • to discuss problems in the application of the directive
  • to discuss emerging issues in the area of e-commerce.

To see its members please refer to the Register of Commission expert group.

See also