In its ambitious digital single market strategy the European Commission has included several proposals designed to help consumers take advantage of the products and services on offer. But while confident consumers are good for business, it is also true that confident businesses are good for consumers too.
Digital technology is empowering consumers the world over. It has revolutionised how we communicate, work, travel, shop, learn, express and entertain ourselves. Consumers and their needs and wants lie at the centre of the process of digital product and service development.
In such a highly competitive digital market tech companies cannot afford not to listen to their customers. Failure to deliver what they want leads rapidly to lost market share and shrinking sales.
It’s important to remember that the interests of digital users and the providers of digital products and services are closely aligned. Especially when it comes to developing European policies aimed at protecting consumers.
Policymakers must ensure that the legal environment they build allows consumers to grasp the opportunities that the technologies offer, while at the same time providing them with the safeguards they need against among other things the real risks of market failure.
In its ambitious digital single market strategy the European Commission has included several proposals designed to help consumers take advantage of the products and services on offer. DIGITALEUROPE is very involved in these policy debates.
Three policy areas deserve special attention: eCommerce, audiovisual media services, and copyright.
DIGITALEUROPE welcomes the ambition to unlock the potential of eCommerce. We believe that this will not only be of benefit to consumers and businesses but also to the European economy as a whole.
In this area, consumers are already benefiting from a strong set of consumer laws designed to build consumer trust online. We believe that it is very important – and fully within the spirit of the Commission’s better regulation initiative – to promote existing rules and push for their proper enforcement before considering new rules. This is particularly important to consider while the European Commission is in the middle of its REFIT Fitness Check of consumer rights legislation.
As well as building trust among consumers, EU consumer policy should also aim to boost business confidence to sell online and across national borders.
This is very much in consumers’ interests too because they stand to benefit from greater choice and more price competition. The two Directives covering digital contracts as well as the Geoblocking Regulation must seek to deliver legal certainty to businesses by encouraging traders and service providers to make their offers available to consumers from another EU country.
Will the geoblocking initiative actually help reduce fragmentation in the digital single market and spur cross-border sales? It’s not clear. Companies have to adapt to a variety of national market conditions such as national standards of living, consumer habits and preferences, language requirements, as well as the need for businesses to comply with diverging local technical and legal rules on consumer rights, VAT rates, copyright, or rules on the disposal of electronic waste.
These differences are what fragment the EU market, not how companies respond to them. If we really want to develop a digitally powered single market the EU needs to address the root causes of the fragmentation, not just the ways companies respond to them. In other words, there can only really be a Digital Single Market where a single market already exists.
The EU effort to reform rules for audiovisual media services (AVMS) risks denying consumers the benefits that technology offers them. New online services and the development of new consumer devices capable of delivering these services to viewers at home or on the move, in real time or at a more convenient time later herald an explosion of consumer choice.
And this consumer empowerment will lead to an increase in diversity in content. The AVMS Directive should look at this increase in consumer choice and its corresponding intensification of competition among suppliers to find ways to maximize the benefits to consumers.
With reform of copyright law EU policymakers must avoid being coerced into defending a status quo that suits a particular set of commercial interests. Last December, the Commission correctly identified the flaws in Europe’s fragmented approach to copyright levies.
Yet in its proposal for reform published last month copyright levies reform was skipped. Since then the Commission has said it may still take action to address what has been dubbed the ‘cassette tax’. There can’t be a digital single market when each EU country takes a different approach to copyright levies. Charging consumers many times over for the right to listen to the same piece of music, for example, is not only inefficient and inconsistent, it’s downright unfair.
We wholeheartedly support the aims of the Digital Single Market. We also support policymakers’ efforts to make consumers feel more confident in the digital world. While confident consumers are good for business, it is also true that confident businesses are good for consumers too.
Photo credits: Don McCullough
The Commission is expecting European leaders to give strong political support to the DSM strategy, says spokesperson for Digital Single Market Nathalie Vandystadt, signalling that all the actions listed in the initiative have been called upon by a vast majority of Members States and MEPs.
What about the criticism that the strategy is lacking in both grand vision and on practical implementation? This is only the start of a long journey, she replies, and the commission is already working on concrete proposals. We cannot say the strategy is not ambitious enough – It is realistic.