The European Commission (EC) is to carry out an inquiry into e-commerce companies operating in Europe amid concerns that firms may deliberately make it harder for people to buy goods online from different countries.
The probe was announced by Margrethe Vestager, European commissioner in charge of competition policy, who said that there should be no arbitrary barriers to online commerce.
“It is high time to remove remaining barriers to e-commerce, which is a vital part of a true Digital Single Market in Europe,” she said.
“The envisaged sector inquiry will help the Commission to understand and tackle barriers to e-commerce to the benefit of European citizens and business.”
The inquiry will have a broad focus on the various legal complications and copyright laws that hamper cross-border selling, such as not accepting credit cards from people buying outside a firm's home nation.
However, there is also a line in the announcement showing that the EC has concerns about companies restricting purchases from other countries.
“There are … indications that some companies may be taking measures to restrict cross-border e-commerce,” the EC said.
"If, after analysing the results, the Commission identifies specific competition concerns, it could open case investigations to ensure compliance with EU rules on restrictive business practices and abuse of dominant market positions."
Vestager expanded on these concerns during a speech, explaining that it does not make sense if content paid for online in Denmark cannot be watched in Belgium, for example.
"Restrictions like these are often the result of arrangements included in contracts between manufacturers and content owners on one side and their distributors on the other," she said.
The inquiry comes just a day after the EC announced plans to tackle barriers to a single digital market, which digital economy and society commissioner Günther Oettinger said is vital to ensure that Europe is not left behind in the global economy.
“Europe cannot be at the forefront of the digital revolution with a patchwork of 28 different rules for telecoms services, copyright, IT security and data protection," he said.
"We need a European market which allows new business models to flourish, startups to grow and the industry to take advantage of the Internet of Things. And people have to invest too - in their IT skills, be it in their job or their leisure time."
The EC is also hoping to implement a single data protection law across Europe in another measure aimed at simplifying life for businesses operating in the region. It hopes to have this in place before the end of the year.
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