A top Brussels bureaucrat took the extraordinary step today of urging business to protest against a proposed amendment to EU ecommerce regulations.
Lead economist in the European Commission's media, commercial, communications and unfair competition unit, and the chief architect of the recent EU ecommerce directive, Jean Bergevin, said a proposed amendment to the Brussels Convention would stifle ecommerce in Europe, if it were enacted.
First mooted in July, the amendment seeks to make ecommerce merchants subject to the consumer laws of all states in which they trade, rather than just the state in which they are based.
While consumer groups argue that the legislation will provide greater protection for online shoppers, critics claim it will halt the growth of the electronic economy in Europe by making it too complex and risky for smaller firms to trade online.
A strident protest lobby spearheaded by London law firm Dibb Lupton Alsop (DLA) forced the Commission to throw the legislation open to debate in September.
It now plans to hold a two day consultation in Brussels on 4-5 November for interested parties from all member states.
Speaking at an ecommerce seminar in London organised by DLA, Bergevin said the proposed amendment was "completely misguided and taking the wrong approach."
"If we go down the country of destination route, ecommerce will be completely stilted," Bergevin said.
He encouraged industry to lobby the UK and European governments to have the changes thrown out.
"Contest the Brussels revision strongly. Come forward with proposals for codes of conduct [for Internet merchants]," Bergevin said.
Rather than attempting to implement unworkable consumer protection laws, EU members should focus on using Internet technology to improve cross-border redress, Bergevin said.
In practical terms this would be extremely difficult and expensive for the average consumer to achieve, and would remain so under a revised Convention.
"It would be better to use the new technology to allow consumers to trigger complaints in other countries online," Bergevin said.
"We need more cooperation between countries and improved cross-border, out-of-court redress. What we need is a situation where European consumers are put on a level footing," he said.
"We're a long way from achieving a true single market, online or offline. The Internet just reveals these problems in a far clearer manner."
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