On 6 May 2015, the European Commission published its Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe. The Strategy sets out a total of 16 initiatives under 3 pillars which lay the groundwork for Europe’s digital future.

Following our overview last week, in this post we focus on the initiatives introduced under the first pillar: Better access for consumers and businesses to online goods and services across Europe.

The Commission’s aim with this pillar appears to be to break down existing obstacles which prevent cross-border online activity. It hopes that this will provide businesses, particularly entrepreneurs, with new opportunities to scale up across Europe and reach other parts of the European market more easily.

The Commission has set out 8 initiatives to achieve this aim:

Harmonise laws on consumer protection, contract and VAT

  1. Legislate for harmonised EU rules on contracts and consumer protection for online purchases (be it tangible goods or digital content).
  2. Review the Regulation on Consumer Protection Cooperation to develop cooperation mechanisms enabling more efficient and consistent enforcement of consumer rules for online purchases. The Commission also plans to establish an EU-wide online dispute resolution platform in 2016.
  3. Reduce the administrative burden which online businesses face from different VAT regimes. This will include extending the single electronic registration and payment to online sales of tangible goods, and introducing a common VAT threshold to help smaller start-ups selling online.
  4. Launch measures to improve price transparency and enhance regulatory oversight of parcel delivery to facilitate the delivery of goods ordered online cross-border in the EU.

End unjustified geo-blocking

  1. Legislate to end unjustified geo-blocking – whilst the Commission accepts that geo-blocking is sometimes justified (for example to comply with local laws) it generally takes the view that geo-blocking is unjustified because it fragments the internal market. Reforms may include changes to the e-Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) and the framework set out by Article 20 of the Services Directive (2006/123/EC).
  2. Launch an antitrust competition inquiry into the e-commerce sector in the EU to identify potential competition concerns.

Modernise copyright law and the Satellite and Cable Directive

  1. Legislate for a modern European copyright regime through further harmonisation measures. These will be aimed at making legally acquired content and online services accessible anywhere in the EU; clarifying rules on online intermediary activity with copyright-protected content; and focusing enforcement of IP rights on commercial-scale infringements (the ‘follow the money’ approach). Measures will also seek to introduce greater legal certainty for cross-border use of copyright materials for research (e.g. copying text and datasets).
  2. Review the Satellite and Cable Directive to assess if its scope should expand to cover online transmissions and explore how to enhance cross-border access to broadcasters’ services in the EU.

The Commission has published a roadmap for these initiatives to take place over the next 2 years. According to this, the first initiatives from Pillar 1 will be the Commission’s legislative proposals on modernising copyright, consumer protection and contract law, which are due to be published before the end of 2015.