European countries need to harmonise cross border legal processes and link court systems over the Internet if genuine consumer rights are to be established beyond national boundaries, senior European officials said this morning.
In July the European Union announced plans, under new consumer protection legislation, to make ecommerce retailers subject to the different laws of all 15 members states, rather than just those of the country in which they are based. (see Newswire 22 July)
Speaking at a Brussels conference, the Ecommerce and Jurisdiction Forum, to debate the impending legislation from the EU, Jean Vergevin, head of DG15 at the EC and one of the architects of the ecommerce directive, said the priority was getting the legal framework in place for judicial systems to work together, rather than focusing on consumer protection per se.
"We don't have very effective cross border redress. This is the most critical issue about getting regulatory certainty into the Net," he said.
He said the concern was that if consumers were unable to easily pursue claims in other countries, they would be reluctant to buy from anything other than large, well known companies from which they could easily get redress. This could result in large companies dominating the Internet, leaving no opportunity for the smaller players to take a share of international ecommerce.
Ana Palacio, MEP and chair of the European Parliament commission on legal affairs, said she wanted the EU to push for a harmonised legal procedure for small claims, but warned that Europe could not legislate alone without taking the US and the rest of the world into account.
"Consumer protection should be seen not as a discourse but as a reality. The existing means for real consumer protection are still not enough. The cost of litigating is too high," she said.
Vergevin said he believed European courts should take advantage of Internet technology to link together and improve communications.
He also said he believed that harmonisation of cross border judicial processes was an essential part of a single economic market that Europe was moving toward.
Mike Pullen, Internet lawyer at Dibb, Lupton Alsop, organised the Ecommerce and Jurisdiction Forum as part of a protest campaign against the EU's forthcoming legislation, which he believes will stifle the growth of ecommerce in Europe. (see Newswire 1 September)
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