On March 26, 2015, Margrethe Vestager, the EU Commissioner for Competition, unveiled a plan to conduct a competition inquiry into the e-commerce sector.  Vestager’s proposal will be vetted by the College of Commissioners in the coming weeks. 

What Will Be the Focus of the Inquiry? 

Pending formal adoption of Vestager’s proposal, it appears that the announced sector inquiry will focus on private (in particular, contractual) barriers to cross-border e-commerce in the EU in both digital content and goods. Among other things, the European Commission may scrutinize:

  • The geo-blocking of online services, including online video streaming and gaming
  • The portability of digital content from one digital platform to another
  • Contractual obligations for online sales in distribution agreements

Why Is the Inquiry Important? 

The proposed launch of a sector inquiry indicates that the European Commission is concerned that: (i) cross-border e-commerce in the EU is not working as well as it should, and (ii) breaches of EU competition rules may be a contributing factor to this. 

In the course of the sector inquiry, the European Commission will be sending out questionnaires to a large number of stakeholders in the e-commerce space. 

If the results of the sector inquiry confirm the European Commission’s competition concerns, it may launch investigations into the existence of anti-competitive agreements and/or abuses of dominance against individual companies. 

It is also likely that the results of the sector inquiry will feed the European Commission’s legislative initiatives in relation to the upcoming Digital Single Market package.