The Europe’s Digital Progress Report (EDPR) published last May 2016 showed unequal progress towards the digital single market (“DSM”) with the development of the digital economy across Member States varying significantly.
The Commission has been frustrated with how slow the European Parliament has been with pushing forward the proposals on the DSM to reduce these disparities between Member States. The European Parliament delayed progress with the time it took to determine the responsible committees. The Council on the other hand has been moving more rapidly; its commitment, along with the Commissions’, is demonstrated by the inclusion of DSM initiatives in their published priorities for 2017.
Three key areas being focused on to develop the EU digital economy are: portability, geo-blocking and copyright.
The area of greatest advancement appears to be the area of portability. The portability proposal was tabled in December 2015 and the Council published its common position in May 2016. Following a delay caused by the Parliament deciding which committee was to be responsible, the JURI Committee published a draft report in June 2016 and amendments were announced in October. Finally, the Committee adopted its position on 29 November 2016 and the trialogue is currently ongoing.
The geo-blocking proposal is also making headway. On 28 November 2016, the Council agreed on common position for a draft regulation to ban unjustified geo-blocking between member states. The discriminatory practice preventing online customers from accessing and purchasing products or services from a website based in another member state is intended to be abolished. The Council’s approach is to prevent discrimination based on customers’ nationality, place of residence or place of establishment and boost e-commerce. The IMCO Committee released the draft report on 22 December. Once the European Parliament’s final report is approved, the draft regulation can move forward to trialogue.
The copyright proposal however appears to be making much more staggered process due to its slightly more controversial nature. A current Initial Appraisal, released December 2016, of the Commission’s Impact Assessment regarding the proposal for a Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market has shown that advances in the area of copyright may be stunted by the opposition of different stakeholders and also the limited quantitative data which is available to the interested parties. A number of external agents have agreed that, as a first step, ‘a number of key data sets need to be generated’ in order to be greater clarity to stakeholders.
In parallel to the legislative proposals, the Commission DG COMP is conducting an ongoing e-commerce sector inquiry. This aims to obtain an overview of the prevailing market trends, gather evidence on potential barriers to competition linked to the growth of e-commerce and understand the prevalence of certain, potentially restrictive, business practices.
The Commission launched the inquiry in May 2015 as part of the DSM strategy. In September 2016, the Commission published a Preliminary Report setting out its initial findings with an overview of the main competition-relevant market trends identified in the inquiry and pointing to possible competition concerns. A public consultation open to all interested stakeholders followed which ended in November 2016. The Final Report summarising the main findings of the sector inquiry is due in the first half of 2017.
The Brussels Agenda will continue to monitor and report on developments in each of the key areas of the DSM strategy as they progress.