SP Euro-MP De Jong ensures SME test on proposals against geoblocking

25 April 2017

SP Euro-MP De Jong ensures SME test on proposals against geoblocking

´Geoblocking´ is the practice whereby internet-based retail outlets exclude purchasers from outside their own EU member state. The European Commission wants to put an end to this and is proposing a legal ban. Today the European Parliament reached agreement on its negotiating position, as the measure will be settled by what’s known as the co-decision procedure, under which the Council, which directly represents the member state governments, and the EP must agree on the final text. SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong is no defender of geo-blocking, but he fears that the proposed legal requirements could make life difficult for smaller shops. “Organisations representing small and medium-sized enterprises – SMEs in the jargon – are complaining that the rules are so complicated that in setting up a website you hardly know where you stand. This is especially true for shops serving a local market, such as a neighbourhood baker’s, which might run a website to inform local customers. All of a sudden such small traders could come in for unpleasant surprises and find themselves forced to offer their wares to people in other member states.” De Jong, however, has a solution. “Today we also reached agreement in principle on a supplementary ‘SME test’” – in other words, an assessment of the likely effects of the measure on smaller firms – “which will be negotiated in parallel with the negotiations on the measure as a whole.”

In general, websites will be obliged to offer goods and services to potential customers across the EU. In practice, however, things are more complicated. “The measure aims to encourage shopkeepers to go ´omnichannel´, selling via the internet as well as in a physical shop,” De Jong explains. “But if local shops do this outside their own country, they might be paid using a foreign credit or debit card and the purchaser will have to give his or her foreign address and telephone number. This creates confusion. And if the shopkeeper then also assists the customer in delivering goods to their country, then he or she will no longer be seen as a local trader, and they’ll have to comply with the consumer protection laws in the customer’s country. The same applies if a customer doesn’t speak Dutch and tries to order in English over the telephone.” Contrary to myth, not all Dutch people speak English. “So here customer-friendliness is working against the interests of the local shop.”

Because in principle you should be able to buy from any internet outlet throughout the EU, which will appeal to many people, in itself it’s a good thing if measures are taken against geoblocking, but the system has to be workable. “This proposal is extremely complicated,” says De Jong. “You can charge customers from other member states different prices, but the general conditions you operate may not differ. Even if you read the material very closely, the tests are difficult to read. This makes it very important that via an SME test we take a further look at the sticking points, and that in our negotiations with the Council, we clarify and simplify where necessary the wording.”

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