The e-Commerce Directive is the foundational legal framework for online services in the Internal Market. The purpose of the Directive is to remove obstacles to cross-border online services in the EU and provide legal certainty to business and citizens.

The e-Commerce Directive

The Directive establishes harmonised rules on issues such as:

  • 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.

Basic rules for e-Commerce

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

The Internal Market Clause

The internal market clause is a key principle of the e-Commerce Directive. It ensures that providers of online services are subject to the law of the Member State in which they are established and not the law of the Member States where the service is accessible.

Liability of Intermediaries

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

  • service providers hosting illegal need to remove it or disable access to it as fast as possible once they are aware of the illegal nature it;
  • only services who play a neutral, merely technical and passive role towards the hosted content are covered by the liability exemption.

Member States cannot force any general content monitoring obligation on intermediaries.

The Digital Single Market and the e-Commerce Directive

Part of the Digital Single Market strategy is focused on defining an appropriate e-commerce framework and preventing unfair discrimination against consumers and businesses who 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 (e.g. funded by advertising)

The Digital Services Act

The Digital Services Act (DSA), proposed by the Commission, builds on the e-Commerce Directive to address new challenges online.

While the e-Commerce Directive remains the cornerstone of digital regulation, much has changed since its adoption 20 years ago. The DSA will address these changes and the challenges that have come with them, particularly in relation to online intermediaries.

Public consultations

The Commission works with consumers, public authorities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and other interested stakeholders to shape the digital single market.

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

The Commission assessed whether EU rules on e-commerce framework are still up to date, and whether they have helped European citizens and businesses access the Digital Single Market when buying goods and services online.

The Commission, in its Staff Working Document on online services, including e-commerce, in the Single Market (2011), 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 in 2012.

Expert group

The Expert group was established on 24 October 2005.

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