EU Looks for Antitrust in|E-Commerce Sector

     (CN) – The EU has opened a preliminary investigation over competition concerns in the e-commerce sector, the European Commission said Wednesday.
     Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager originally announced her intention to audit online sellers for antitrust violations in March, a day after the EU rolled out plans for a single digital market for all citizens.
     Vestager acknowledged that language barriers, consumer preferences and legislative differences are partly to blame, but added that e-retailers may also be throwing their own anti-competitive wrenches into the mix.
     The commission said the inquiry will focus on potential barriers to cross-border online trade erected by companies for goods and services most often bought online – electronics, digital content, clothes and shoes.
     While the investigation may not result in enforcement and fines for specific e-retailers, the commission said it may uncover antitrust practices that breach the EU’s rules on competition, restrictive business practices or abuse of a dominant position in the e-commerce sector.
     Regulators have expressed frustration that while half of EU citizens have shopped online, only 15 percent have bought something from a seller in another member state.
     One commissioner bemoaned the fact that while citizens can cross physical borders into any other EU member state freely, they are often blocked from spending their euros on an e-commerce website outside of their home state – a practice known as geo-blocking.
     Vestager – from Denmark – has complained that she can “watch my favorite Danish channels on my tablet in Copenhagen – a service I paid for – but I can’t when I’m in Brussels. It’s very difficult to explain this to the people and, at the same time, make the point that we are all residents of the EU and consumers in the same internal market.”
     She added on Wednesday: “European citizens face too many barriers to accessing goods and services online across borders. Some of these barriers are put in place by companies themselves. With this sector inquiry my aim is to determine how widespread these barriers are and what effects they have on competition and consumers. If they are anti-competitive we will not hesitate to take enforcement action under EU antitrust rules.”
     The commission expects to have the preliminary results of its investigation by mid-2016, with a final report issued in the first quarter of 2017.

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