EU plans to tackle online barriers in digital single market

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 25, 2015 7:09 AM

By Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germans should be able to buy books from British online retailers and Italians ought to have access to movies on sites in Belgium, according to EU draft proposals on Wednesday setting priorities to boost Europe's digital economy.

Along with outline proposals to limit national control of mobile phone frequencies and simplify cross-border VAT sales taxes for small businesses, the European Commission sees the promotion of online trading across the bloc as a useful way to revive growth in stagnating EU economies.

"Let us do away with all those fences and walls that block us online," Andrus Ansip, the Commission vice president for the digital single market, said in a statement released after the 28 commissioners discussed the proposals at their weekly meeting.

"Innovative businesses must be helped to grow across the EU, not remain locked into their home market," said Ansip, who is due to present a full strategy on the issue in May.

The fact that only 15 percent of EU citizens buy online from other parts of the bloc is only partly due to issues of culture and language, the EU executive believes, noting high cross-border delivery costs and legal hurdles to making purchases.

Some larger online retailers automatically route customers to local sites, which may charge higher prices than in other EU countries, the Commission said in a statement. It would tackle the practice known as geo-blocking, as well as harmonize contract rules and make parcel-delivery more affordable.

Ansip also plans to look at the role played in the digital economy by Internet search engines like Google and social media providers like Facebook or Twitter.

The Commission said it is considering ways to bolster public trust through making such services more transparent in the ways they route users through the Web and accelerating their removal of illegal content. The EU competition authorities are currently investigating whether Google abuses its dominant position.

The Commission's outline proposals also include improving data protection while favoring the benefits to be reaped from big data accumulations and cloud computing.

Ant it wants a pan-European approach to managing the radio frequencies needed for mobile telephony. Governments are loath to cede control of airwaves from which they earn big revenues. But the Commission noted 4G technology was held up by a lack of frequencies and said it would seek coordination across the EU.

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)