Procedure : 2006/2048(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0191/2007

Texts tabled :

A6-0191/2007

Debates :

PV 21/06/2007 - 5
CRE 21/06/2007 - 5

Votes :

PV 21/06/2007 - 8.11
CRE 21/06/2007 - 8.11
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2007)0287

REPORT     
PDF 210kWORD 140k
16 May 2007
PE 386.317v03-00 A6-0191/2007

on consumer confidence in the digital environment

(2006/2048(INI))

Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection

Rapporteur: Zuzana Roithová

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION
 EXPLANATORY STATEMENT
 OPINION of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy
 PROCEDURE

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on consumer confidence in the digital environment

(2006/2048(INI))

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the Commission Green Paper on the Review of the Consumer Acquis (COM(2006)0744) and the EC Consumer Law Compendium – Comparative Analysis(1),

–   having regard to the public hearing (and to the expert studies presented at that hearing) on consumer confidence in the digital environment, which took place at the European Parliament on 24 January 2007,

–   having regard to the EC Treaty, and in particularly Articles 95 and 153 thereof,

–   having regard to its resolutions of 23 March 2006 on European contract law and the revision of the acquis: the way forward(2) and of 7 September 2006 on European contract law(3),

–   having regard to current Community legislation in the area of consumer protection, e-commerce and the development of the information society,

-    having regard to the German Presidency Charter on consumer sovereignty in the digital environment,

-    having regard to the Commission Communication on electronic communications: fighting unsocilited commercial communications spam, spyware and malicious software (COM(2006)0688),

-    having regard to the Commission Communication on the Review of the EU Regulatory Framework for electronic communications networks and services (COM(2006)0334)

–   having regard to Rule 45 of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (A6-0191/2007),

A. Whereas digital technology is a part of everyday life, the ICT industry plays a major role in providing platforms, devices, software, information services, communication, entertainment, and cultural goods, the boundary between goods and services is becoming blurred, various forms of ICT are converging, methods of purchase are diversifying and consumers are increasingly generating content for or adding value to products; whereas, moreover, in this complex new structure, it is increasingly difficult to identify who is providing a particular part of a service and to understand the impact of specific technology and new business models;

B.  whereas European consumer and business confidence in the digital environment is low and whereas in certain aspects of e-commerce Europe is lagging behind the United States and Asia,

C. whereas, despite the potential of digital communication, only 6 % of consumers engage in cross-border e-commerce in goods, services and content, although this figure is rising,.

D. whereas, despite the potential of alternative dispute resolution, such systems are regularly used by only 3 % of retailers, and 41 % of retailers do not know about the possibilities of using these tools,

E.  whereas the development of the EU digital market would considerably increase the EU’s competitiveness in global trade,

F.  whereas net neutrality deserves in-depth investigation and close monitoring at the European level in order to unleash and fully exploit its potential to boost consumer choice and make it possible also for new business to have equal access to the internal market,

G. whereas the fragmentation of part of the electronic market within the EU endangers the rights laid down in the acquis communautaire,

H. whereas the digital divide is social and geographical, and whereas those left behind by digital developments are often in disadvantaged and rural areas,

I.   whereas European consumers and businesses have little legal certainty for cross-border e-commerce within the EU in comparison with national transactions and transactions outside the EU,

J.   whereas one single electronic transaction is subject to many legal provisions setting divergent requirements, which does not provide either business operators or consumers with clear and easily enforceable rules,

K.  whereas the future of the information society very much depends on the challenge of ensuring adequate protection of personal data as well as a high level of security in the electronic environment,

1.  Calls on the Commission to support a suitable framework for the development of e-commerce that would boost the current low level of consumer confidence, create a more attractive business environment, improve the quality of legislation, reinforce consumer rights and the position of small business operators on the markets, and stop the fragmentation of the internal market in the digital environment; in that respect, welcomes the communication from the Commission on the EU Consumer Policy strategy 2007-2013 - Empowering consumers, enhancing their welfare, effectively protecting them (COM(2007)0099);

2.  Calls on the Commission, in addition to seeking to improve the quality of consumer legislation, to focus on developing appropriate rules for cross-border e-commerce in the form of standards to which holders of the European trustmark for cross-border e-commerce would adhere voluntarily;

3.  Calls on the Commission to propose a strategy for increasing consumer confidence in the digital environment as a whole, building on experience gathered as part of the ‘e-confidence’ initiative(4);

4.   Is convinced of the need to implement in practice and without delay the 'e-inclusion' initiative; therefore calls on the Commission to urge the Member States which are signatories to this pan-European initiative to take action to this end;

5.  Is convinced that there should be a broader definition of ‘consumer’ better adapted to the information society;

6.  Is convinced that small business operators deserve specific protection to enhance their position on the markets in the Information Society;

7.  Emphasises that factors exist that give rise to a lack of consumer confidence in the digital environment, and therefore considers it necessary to pursue an active policy and to support specific mechanisms to help boost consumer confidence by ensuring that transactions in the digital environment can be safely carried out in a proper manner;

8.  Calls on the Commission, pursuant to Article 18 of Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 on consumer protection cooperation(5), to conclude consumer protection cooperation agreements with third countries (particularly those within the OECD), which would improve the enforceability of consumer rights in the digital environment;

9.  Welcomes the Commission's initiative to review and update the consumer acquis, and particularly the strong focus on eCommerce;

Increasing consumer confidence in the digital environment

10. Considers that a new e-confidence strategy would contribute to raising consumer confidence, particularly by means of progress in the following areas:

–   creating a grant programme and making use of existing financial programmes for projects aimed at increasing consumer confidence in the digital environment, including educational and information campaigns and projects verifying online services in practice (such as ‘mystery shopping’),

–   creating an electronic learning module relating directly to consumer protection and the rights of users in the digital environment in connection with the Dolceta (Development of On-Line Consumer Education Tool for Adults) project, which would at the same time take into consideration the specific interests of young consumers in the digital environment,

–   supporting educational and information projects designed to raise small and medium-sized businesses' awareness of their obligations when they provide or supply goods, services or content across a border in the digital environment,

–   strengthening traditional consumer protection instruments to ensure that they are used effectively in the digital environment as well, especially by broadening the objectives of the European Consumer Centres,

–   removing obstacles faced by entrepreneurs operating across borders in the digital environment, for example by standardising EU rules governing cross-border electronic invoicing ('e-invoicing'),

–   creating a pan-European forum of experts to exchange best national practice, which would also present a long-term legislative and non-legislative strategy for increasing consumer confidence in the digital environment,

–   carrying out impact studies on all legislative proposals relating to the internal market in order to assess the effects which those proposals will have on consumers in the digital environment,

–   coordination of, and support for, European self-regulatory codices, which are in accordance with best practice and with the most important aspects of effective self-regulation (including assessment of the influence which they actually have on improving the position of consumers on the market in the digital environment),

–   introducing the requirement for an external audit to be carried out in respect of certain specific types of electronic services where there is a greater need to ensure that they are fully secure, to protect personal information and data (in the case of Internet banking, for example), and so on,

–   supporting the mandatory use of the securest kinds of technology for online payments,

–   creating a European early-warning system, including a database, to combat fraudulent activities in the digital environment; this database should include a possibility for consumers to report fraudulent behaviour using a simple online form,

–  calling for the launch of a European information campaign on the counterfeiting of medicines sold on the internet, stressing the serious public health dangers this represents;

11. Highlights the importance of timely and effective transposition of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive by all Member States as a key instrument guaranteeing consumer protection in cross-border transactions;

12. Considers also that a relaunched e-confidence initiative should not only deal with consumer protection but also set out a coordinated approach to the issue of the digital environment as a whole, including analyses of non-market factors such as the protection of privacy, access by the general public to information technologies ('e-inclusion'), internet security, and so on;

13. Insists that the European population's right to access the digital environment is paramount and recalls in this respect the importance of implementing appropriate financial and legal tools in order to promote e-inclusion, notably by enforcing and if necessary extending universal service obligations in the field of electronic communications, as well as making financial resources available for investments in the development of digital communication infrastructure;

14. Is convinced that interested parties (representatives of the industry and of consumer organisations) must be consulted on future steps;

E-commerce culture

15. Calls on the Commission to begin formulating voluntary European standards designed to facilitate cross-border e-commerce, i.e. European standards which will bridge language differences and variations between the laws in force within the various Member States - this being a factor which constitutes a serious obstacle preventing both consumers and small- and medium-sized businesses from fully exploiting the internal market's potential in the digital environment;

16. Calls on the Commission to support the creation of optional standardised contracts and voluntary standardised general terms and conditions of trade for e-commerce to guarantee a balanced relationship, in view of the fact that neither consumers nor businesses are usually legal and technical experts, but nevertheless leave the option for parties to free contracting based on the fundamental civil law principle of freedom to conclude a contract;

17. Calls on the Commission to establish the requirement for entrepreneurs who voluntarily use standardised contracts and standardised general commercial terms and conditions to highlight those provisions which differ therefrom;

18. Calls on the Commission to propose that the rules governing electronic communications be amended to improve transparency and publication of information to end-users;

European trustmark for cross-border e-commerce

19. Calls on the Commission to initiate the definition of conditions and a logo for a European trustmark to guarantee greater certainty in the area of cross-border e-commerce and in this connection to ensure a general legal framework for voluntary trustmarks, as it was called on to do in the e-Commerce Directive ; recommends that this should involve:

–   an inexpensive system,

–   non-competition with existing trust- or quality marks,

–   costs being borne only in the event of dispute,

–   the self-regulatory principle (the mark is not awarded institutionally, but traders use it if they publicly demonstrate that they have provided compulsory information within a defined timescale, used recommended contracts, dealt with complaints without delay, used alternative dispute resolution (ADR) systems or conformed with other European standards),

–   penalties for improper use;

20. Notes, however, the following problems with implementing effective trust mark schemes:

–  unwillingness of stakeholders to invest in the marketing and promotion of such schemes;

–  the possibilities for fraudulent use are opened unless proper supervision takes place;

21. Is convinced that the most effective ways of encouraging consumer confidence are:

–   sector-specific schemes, strongly supported and policed by a trade body with pan-industry support from small and large enterprises;

–   sector-specific codes of conduct for service providers, as encouraged by Directive 2006/123/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on services in the internal market(6) ("the Services Directive");

–   independent consumer references posted on websites to assist new consumers when making choices;

and asks the Commission to facilitate best practice exchange for such schemes;

22. Notes that the Universal Commercial Practices Directive covers fraudulent use of trustmarks or other marks, as well as false consumer references; asks Member States to ensure that their national consumer protection centres are alerted to such abuses;

23. Calls on the Commission to assess the experience already gained with existing and successful trustmarks, in particular ones operating in more than one Member State (e.g. the Euro-Label), and to make use of that experience when devising the EU trustmark for cross-border e-commerce (including verification as to whether the dissemination of trustmarks in the new Member States is hindered by a lack of adequate resources to finance the introduction of such marks);

24. Firmly believes that trustmarks offer small and medium-sized businesses in particular a significant opportunity for building up consumer trust in the digital environment;

European charter of users’ rights in the information society

25. Calls on the Commission to propose a European charter of users’ rights that would clarify the rights and obligations of information society players, including consumers, notably users’ rights relating to digital content (i.e. clarification of users’ rights and obligations when using intellectual property), users’ rights guaranteeing basic interoperability standards, and the rights of particularly vulnerable users (i.e. improving the accessibility of internet pages for disabled persons);

26. Calls on the Commission to establish basic users’ freedoms and rights in the information society (in this respect, some users’ freedoms and rights should already be established within the framework of the forthcoming Communication on Content Online in the Single Market);

27. Takes the view that the online environment and digital technology enable consumers to be offered a wide range of new products and services, and that intellectual property can be made compatible with consumers' expectations, but also considers that consumers' interests in relation to intellectual property rights are increasingly important, while their rights to enjoy digital works remain unclear and current trends in intellectual property, digital rights management and technological protection measures should adequately acknowledge consumer rights;

28. Calls on the Commission to disseminate this charter, and to encourage the Member States and organisations concerned to disseminate it widely to all internet users, so that they know their rights and have the means to assert them;

Fragmentation of the internal market in the digital environment

29. Calls on the Commission to propose measures to stop the fragmentation of the internal market in the digital environment (i.e. the refusal of access to goods, services and content offered in a cross-border context), which significantly affects consumers mainly in new and small Member States solely on the basis of their nationality, place of residence or whether they own a payment card issued in a particular Member State, and to keep Parliament regularly informed on progress made in this area;

30. Firmly believes it is unacceptable that certain entrepreneurs who supply goods or provide services and content via the internet in several Member States deny consumers access to their websites in other Member States and force them to use their websites in the State in which they are resident or whose nationality they hold;

31. Calls on the Commission to propose a provision for access to products delivered cross-border in line with Article 20 of the Services Directive;

32. Calls on the Commission to closely monitor the effectiveness of Article 20 of the Services Directive, in particular with regard to objective criteria;

33. Welcomes the fact that the Commission is investigating under which conditions the practice of territorial licensing or exclusive territorial contracts are conflicting with the Internal Market and encourages it and calls on it to comprehensively inform the Parliament about the findings of these investigations;

34. Stresses the importance of ensuring that European entrepreneurs in the digital environment have good reason to offer goods, services and content across borders throughout the entire EU internal market;

35. Notes that interoperability is a crucial economic factor and stresses the importance of industry-driven, accessible, interoperable standards at a technical and legal level so as to enable economies of scale, ensure non-discriminatory access to devices, services and content for consumers, promote the fast deployment of technologies and contribute to avoiding market fragmentation; stresses that true interoperability of devices, services and content at least at the consumer (end-user) level should be promoted;

Strengthening consumers’ legal protection in the digital environment

36. Is convinced that greater consumer confidence in the digital environment would be made possible by a clearer and improved consumer acquis communautaire geared towards horizontal legal instruments and the harmonisation of certain aspects of consumer contract law; this should include other directives, such as those on distance selling of financial services and e-commerce;

37. Welcomes the suggestion made by the Commission in the Green Paper on the Review of the Consumer Acquis (COM(2006)0744) to include digital files within the scope of Directive 1999/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 May 1999 on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees(7);

38. Is convinced that the application of the regime on unfair contract terms should be reinforced in the field of end-user licence agreements and should include ‘technical contract terms’;

39. Calls on the Commission to propose that the rules regulating distance contracts be extended to cover contracts concluded between consumers and professional traders in online auctions and contracts for tourist services (airline tickets, hotel accommodation, car rental, leisure time services etc.) ordered individually over the internet;

40. Calls on the Commission to simplify and standardise the requirements for mandatory information provided by the vendor to the purchaser in e-commerce and in the context of such information to prioritise essential mandatory information;

41. Calls on the Commission to make the supply chain in the digital environment more transparent in such a way as to ensure that the consumer always knows the identity of the supplier and whether it is an intermediary or an end supplier;

42. Firmly believes it to be unacceptable that consumers are redirected from the vendor's website to some other website without being properly warned, since this causes the true identity of the actual supplier of the goods, services or content to be concealed from consumers;

43. Calls on the Commission to strengthen consumer protection in cases where the consumer assumes all contractual risks, e.g. by paying in advance, particularly in electronic contracts;

44. Calls on the Commission to speed up its consideration of action on collective redress mechanisms for cross border business-to-consumers (B2C) disputes in the digital environment;

45. Recalling the positive experiences of SOLVIT and of the network of European Consumer Centres, calls for the creation of a European e-consumer information system which would offer all European e-consumers detailed guidance and information about consumer and business rights and obligations in the digital environment, practical orientation regarding alternative dispute resolution (ADR) opportunities, both at a general level and, where relevant, in individual cases as well;

46. Calls on the Commission to ensure that consumers are effectively protected against security and privacy attacks in the digital environment through both regulatory and technical measures;

47. Calls on the Commission to monitor in detail the trends in consumer protection in e-commerce by means of mobile telephones, with emphasis to be placed inter alia on the protection of young consumers;

48. Calls on the Member States to cooperate in striving to achieve the objective of a high level of consumer protection in the digital environment throughout the entire EU internal market;

49. Calls on the Commission to notify Parliament of the progress made as regards consumer protection in the digital environment (including practical steps taken towards fulfilment of this resolution) at regular intervals (ideally once per year);

o

o o

50. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the Governments and Parliaments of the Member States.

(1)

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/cons_int/safe_shop/acquis/comp_analysis_en.pdf

(2)

OJ C 292 E, 1.12.2006, p. 109.

(3)

Texts adopted, P6_TA(2006)0352.

(4)

See Commission staff working document entitled ‘Consumer Confidence in E-Commerce: lessons learned from the e-confidence initiative’.

(5)

OJ L 364, 9.12.2004, p.1.

(6)

OJ L 376, 27.12.2006, p. 36.

(7)

OJ L 171, 7.7.1999, p. 12.


EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

The report on consumer confidence in the digital environment deals with the very broad issue of confidence when using information and communication technologies for e-commerce, information services, digital communication and entertainment; in other words, the report relates to the everyday life of a majority of European consumers and business operators in the 21st century. New technologies provide great opportunities for consumers and business operators alike to take full advantage of the internal market. However, users in the information society are sometimes also confronted with a range of obstacles that make the use of the online environment more complicated than carrying out the same activity (e.g. a commercial transaction) would be in a traditional offline environment. The Union must actively and systematically seek to remove these obstacles and to strike the right balance between legal protection of consumers and business operators (with emphasis on the specific characteristics of small and medium-sized businesses). This report, taking into account the forthcoming review of the acquis on consumer protection, e-commerce, contract law and the protection of intellectual property, is a timely political appeal by Parliament to the Commission and the Member States. Taking into account also the public hearing on consumer confidence in the digital environment held on 24 January 2007, Parliament considers that Europe is at crucial stage that will determine whether the EU will transform the internal market in the globalised and virtually border-free digital environment into a comparative advantage over other world competitors or whether the internal market and the (currently 27) isolated national markets in the digital environment will represent more of an obstacle for the EU to fully developing the information society and the Lisbon strategy.

The need for a report on consumer confidence in the digital environment is evidenced also by the figures provided by a range of statistics.

According to a Eurobarometer survey, 33 % of consumers stated that businesses had refused to sell or to provide goods or services because the consumer was not resident in the same country. Although 48 % of retailers from the EU would be prepared to engage in cross-border trade, only 29 % of companies actually sell cross-border to at least one other EU country; similarly, while 18 % of European retailers state that they would be prepared to engage in cross-border trade with 10 or more Member States, only 5 % of companies currently do so. According to the survey, 57 % of retailers in the EU sell over the internet. The biggest obstacles to cross-border commerce were considered to be uncertainty over transactions (61 % of respondents), different accounting rules (58 %), the complicated nature of complaint and dispute resolution (57 %), divergent national consumer protection legislation (55 %), difficulty providing after-sales service (55 %), excessive costs arising from cross-border deliveries (51 %) and translation costs (43 %). Half of retailers believe that if uniform legislation on transactions with consumers existed throughout the EU, then their cross-border sales would increase. Significantly, 62 % of retailers in the EU do not know where to obtain information on the consumer protection legislation in force in other Member States.

The Eurobarometer survey also reveals that 6 % of consumers made purchases by internet from a supplier in another Member State. One reason to this is that as many as 45 % of the consumers feel less confident in making purchases on the internet from businesses located abroad (in one Member State this figure amounted to 73 %). In general terms, 56 % of consumers were of the opinion that, when purchasing goods and services from businesses in other Member States, businesses are less likely to respect consumer protection laws. 71 % of consumers believed it is harder to resolve problems such as complaints, returns, price reductions, guarantees etc. when purchasing from businesses in other Member States. 65 % of consumers considered it to be more problematic returning a product bought by distance selling within the cooling-off period when purchasing from a supplier in a different Member State. Studies have shown that one reason for consumers being reluctant to make cross-border purchases is that consumers cannot be sure that the level of protection that they enjoy at home will apply when they buy cross-border.

Generally, it can be said that European consumer and business confidence in the digital environment is low and that, in some aspects of e-commerce, Europe is lagging behind the United States and Asia. However, this applies also to other forms of distance commerce (e.g. via mobile telephones). The fragmentation of the electronic market within the EU in certain areas of the provision of goods, services or content jeopardises the common objectives of the internal market, damages consumer confidence and even threatens the rights and freedoms laid down in the acquis communautaire. In the light of the lack of confidence of European consumers in the digital environment and the many factors that limit cross-border e-commerce, it is regrettable that the EU currently has no strategy of its own that would help resolve the situation. Sadly, European consumers and business operators often do not enjoy above-standard certainty and protection for cross-border e-commerce within the EU, even compared with carrying out the same transaction with entities outside the EU. While the contribution of EU legislation to the global development of legal regulation of e-commerce is to be valued, it must at the same time be acknowledged that current European legislation does not take sufficient account of the newest trends in the digital environment, and in certain areas it is even more of a hindrance; e.g. one single electronic transaction is usually subject to several legal provisions setting divergent requirements, meaning that neither business operators nor consumers have clear and easily enforceable rules.

The rapporteur believes that an important step towards improving consumer confidence in the digital environment is to adopt a strategy containing in particular the following conditions:

- the creation of an attractive business environment for cross-border e-commerce,

- the creation of European standards enhancing e-commerce culture,

- clarification of the rights and obligations of consumers and businesses in the digital environment,

- halting the fragmentation of the internal market in the digital environment,

- strengthening, and improving the enforceability of, the legal protection of consumers in the digital environment.

In direct connection with this, the rapporteur considers it appropriate to continue the activities already drawn up, and the Commission should therefore relaunch, and modernise in the way set out above, the e-confidence initiative proposed in the form of a Commission staff document.

In line with its resolutions referred to above, the European Parliament maintains that the current definition of ‘consumer’ is too narrow, given the growing needs of the information society, which puts small businesses (of one person) in the same position as consumers in cross-border trade but without comparable protection (guarantee periods, right of withdrawal etc.).

The digital environment transcends national and continental borders, and it is therefore also crucial to improve the level of protection afforded to European consumers when making electronic purchases in third countries. Therefore, the rapporteur is of the opinion that it is necessary to agree on the conclusion of consumer protection cooperation agreements with countries outside the EU (particularly those within the OECD and countries geographically close to Europe).

This call to work on a new and considerably broader e-confidence initiative with a view to increasing consumer confidence in the digital environment provides the opportunity to include a range of measures (particularly non-legislative measures, such as financing targeted educational and information campaigns involving consumer organisations), as well as greater coordination of individual activities by the Commission and the Member States (e.g. increasing the powers of European Consumer Centres to increase their effectiveness in the digital environment and creating pan-European expert forums for the exchange of best national practice). However, the emphasis must be placed on ensuring that interested parties (industry representatives, consumer organisations, and suchlike) are consulted on future measures in this dynamic area and that such measures are supported also by ‘soft law’ measures (e.g. self-regulatory codices and the proposal of standards by the Commission for a greater e-commerce culture within the EU). As studies and statistics show that fraudulent activities on the internet (e.g. ‘phishing’) are currently the greatest threat (greater than unsolicited commercial messages – ‘spam’), a European early-warning system (including database) should be set up to combat fraudulent activities in the digital environment. Greater consumer confidence in the digital environment can also be achieved by prompt and proper resolution of claims, complaints and disputes, which can best be achieved by online alternative dispute resolution systems. The Commission should also ensure that the new e-confidence initiative is not limited only to consumer protection but that it also sets out a coordinated approach for the whole issue of the digital environment (including analyses of non-market factors). As most consumers and business operators are not legal and technical experts, the Commission should support the creation of standardised e-commerce contracts, which would guarantee a fair approach for both parties.

As there is no specialised trustmark for cross-border electronic transactions, the rapporteur recommends the introduction of a European trustmark system (which would, of course, require the fulfilment of a range of conditions, including costs being borne only in the event of the dispute (i.e. the European trustmark would be obtained and operated free of charge)). The objective of the European trustmark, among other measures, is to reach the critical mass of satisfied customers required for cross-border e-commerce to work.

Another important tool for increasing consumer confidence in the digital environment will, in the view of the rapporteur, be provided by the creation of a European charter of users’ rights in the information society that would clarify not only the current rights and obligations of information society actors, including consumers, but would also put forward new European rights and obligations (e.g. users’ rights relating to digital content, i.e. clarification of users’ rights when using intellectual property, users’ rights guaranteeing basic interoperability standards, and the rights of particularly vulnerable users, i.e. improving accessibility of internet pages for handicapped persons).

The rapporteur warns of the increasing fragmentation of the internal market in the digital environment (i.e. the refusal of access to goods, services and content provided in a cross-border context), which significantly affects consumers particularly from new and small Member States solely on the basis of their nationality, place of residence and whether they own a payment card issued in a certain Member State. It is the rapporteur’s view that such conduct needs to be confronted effectively.

A clearer and more transparent acquis communautaire in the area of consumer protection in the digital environment, particularly if it is oriented towards horizontal legal measures and a revision of consumer contract law, can contribute towards higher consumer confidence. In the rapporteur’s view, current shortcomings in the consumer acquis must be resolved at least in the following areas: end-user licence agreements and ‘technical contract terms’ should be subject to the rules on unfair contract terms; contracts concluded between consumers and professional traders in online auction sales, as well as contracts for tourists services (airline tickets, hotel accommodation, car rental, leisure time services etc.) ordered individually over the internet, should be subject to the rules on distance selling; the information that the vendor must provide to the purchaser in an electronic transaction should be simplified and standardised; the transparency of the supply chain in the digital environment on the vendor’s side should be increased to ensure that the consumer knows the actual identity of the supplier (including whether it is an intermediary or an end supplier); an effective consumer protection tool should be created for cases where the consumer assumes all contractual risks (including financial risks, e.g. when there is a requirement to pay in advance), particularly in the context of cross-border e-commerce.


OPINION of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (20.3.2007)

for the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection

on Consumer confidence in the digital environment

(2006/2048(INI))

Draftsman: David Hammerstein Mintz

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Industry, Research and Energy calls on the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions in its motion for a resolution:

1.  Considers that digital technology is a part of everyday life: the ICT industry plays a major role in providing platforms, devices, software, information services, communication, entertainment, and cultural goods, the boundary between goods and services is becoming blurred, various forms of ICT are converging, methods of purchase are diversifying and consumers are increasingly generating content for or adding value to products; observes that, in this complex new structure, it is increasingly difficult to identify who is providing a particular part of a service and to understand the impact of specific technology and new business models;

2.  Emphasises that it is not only individuals that are consumers but also SMEs; notes, however, that the technical problems of trading through online platforms, the uncertain origin of goods and the illegal behaviour of certain players might be some of the factors creating mistrust; considers, to this end, that trust and confidence should be promoted and consumers reassured that transactions can be safely completed in a transparent and fair manner;

3.  Takes the view that consumers' interests in relation to intellectual property rights are increasingly important while their rights to enjoy digital works remain unclear and current trends in intellectual property, digital rights management and technological protection measures do not adequately acknowledge consumer rights;

4.  Welcomes initiatives to promote trust and confidence in e-commerce and draws attention to existing quality marks (such as the Euro-Label); points out, however, that it is often precisely in the new Member States that funding for introducing these schemes is lacking; considers that, especially for small businesses, quality labels are an important way of creating confidence and offsetting the disadvantage of a lower marketing profile compared with online outlets and Web-shops;

5.  Notes that interoperability is a crucial economic factor: standards should ensure interoperability and contribute to avoiding market fragmentation; also notes that open source software is a key element in facilitating interoperability and contributes to security, since the absence of patented or encrypted codes and algorithms allows their reliability to be checked and technically-minded individuals to contribute to the development of software and technology;

6.  Stresses that the market for digital creative content is still at an early stage of development and that self-regulatory codes could play an important role.

PROCEDURE

Title

Consumer confidence in the digital environment

Procedure number

2006/2048(INI)

Committee responsible

IMCO

Opinion by
  Date announced in plenary

ITRE
16.3.2006

Enhanced cooperation – date announced in plenary

 

Drafts(wo)man
  Date appointed

David Hammerstein Mintz

25.4.2006

Previous drafts(wo)man

 

Discussed in committee

25.9.2006

30.1.2007

 

 

 

Date adopted

20.3.2007

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

22

19

0

Members present for the final vote

Renato Brunetta, Philippe Busquin, Jerzy Buzek, Giles Chichester, Den Dover, Nicole Fontaine, Adam Gierek, Norbert Glante, András Gyürk, David Hammerstein Mintz, Rebecca Harms, Erna Hennicot-Schoepges, Mary Honeyball, Ján Hudacký, Romana Jordan Cizelj, Werner Langen, Eugenijus Maldeikis, Eluned Morgan, Angelika Niebler, Reino Paasilinna, Atanas Paparizov, Francisca Pleguezuelos Aguilar, Herbert Reul, Paul Rübig, Andres Tarand, Britta Thomsen, Radu Ţîrle, Patrizia Toia, Catherine Trautmann, Claude Turmes, Nikolaos Vakalis, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Dominique Vlasto

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Alexander Alvaro, Pilar Ayuso, Danutė Budreikaitė, Zdzisław Kazimierz Chmielewski, Edit Herczog, Esko Seppänen, Dirk Sterckx, Hannes Swoboda

Substitute(s) under Rule 178(2) present for the final vote

 

Comments (available in one language only)

...


PROCEDURE

Title

Consumer confidence in the digital environment

Procedure number

2006/2048(INI)

Committee responsible
  Date authorisation announced in plenary

IMCO
16.3.2006

Committee(s) asked for opinion(s)
  Date announced in plenary

ITRE
16.3.2006

 

 

 

 

Rapporteur(s)
  Date appointed

Zuzana Roithová
21.2.2006

 

Discussed in committee

19.4.2006

11.7.2006

10.10.2006

24.1.2007

21.3.2007

 

7.5.2007

 

 

 

 

Date adopted

8.5.2007

Result of final vote

+

-

0

41

0

0

Members present for the final vote

Charlotte Cederschiöld, Corina Creţu, Mia De Vits, Rosa Díez González, Janelly Fourtou, Evelyne Gebhardt, Malcolm Harbour, Pierre Jonckheer, Lasse Lehtinen, Toine Manders, Arlene McCarthy, Bill Newton Dunn, Zita Pleštinská, Guido Podestà, Zuzana Roithová, Luisa Fernanda Rudi Ubeda, Heide Rühle, Leopold Józef Rutowicz, Christel Schaldemose, Alexander Stubb, Eva-Britt Svensson, Marianne Thyssen, Jacques Toubon, Bernadette Vergnaud, Barbara Weiler

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Wolfgang Bulfon, Jean-Claude Fruteau, Joel Hasse Ferreira, Konstantinos Hatzidakis, Filip Kaczmarek, Othmar Karas, Manuel Medina Ortega, Pier Antonio Panzeri, Olle Schmidt, Søren Bo Søndergaard, Marc Tarabella, Anja Weisgerber

Substitute(s) under Rule 178(2) present for the final vote

Philip Bushill-Matthews, Sophia in 't Veld, Horia-Victor Toma, Anne Van Lancker

Date tabled

16.5.2007

Comments
(available in one language only)

 

Last updated: 7 June 2007Legal notice