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

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PV 21/06/2007 - 5
CRE 21/06/2007 - 5

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PV 21/06/2007 - 8.11
CRE 21/06/2007 - 8.11
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Thursday, 21 June 2007 - Strasbourg Final edition
Consumer confidence in the digital environment

European Parliament resolution of 21 June 2007 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 particular 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 entitled "Consumer sovereignty in a digital world",

–   having regard to the Commission Communication on fighting 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 information and communication technology (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 (ADR), 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 businesses 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 enjoy 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 market, 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" which is better suited to the information society;

6.  Is convinced that small business operators deserve specific protection to enhance their position on the market 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 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 October 2004 on cooperation between national authorities responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws (the Regulation 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 e-commerce;

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 Tools 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 enterprises' 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 and to 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 would have on consumers in the digital environment,
   coordination of, and support for, European self-regulatory codices in accordance with best practice and with the most important aspects of effective self-regulation (including assessment of their influence 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 those services are fully secure, to protect personal information and data (in the case, for example, of internet banking), and so on,
   supporting the mandatory use of the most secure 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 provide the 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 danger this represents;

11.  Highlights the importance of timely and effective transposition of Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market (Unfair Commercial Practices Directive)(6) 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 by making financial resources available for investments in the development of digital communication infrastructure;

14.  Is convinced that interested parties (representatives of 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, namely European standards designed to 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 enterprises 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 in order to ensure a balanced relationship, in view of the fact that neither consumers nor businesses are usually legal and technical experts, but nevertheless to leave the option for parties to contract freely, based on the fundamental civil law principle of the freedom to 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 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, when the obstacles to the integration of the retail side of the internal market have been removed,  to assess the possibilities for establishing a definition of conditions and a logo for a European trustmark in order 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 Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (Directive on electronic commerce)(7) ; 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 ADR systems or conformed to other European standards),
   penalties for improper use;

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

   the unwillingness of stakeholders to invest in the marketing and promotion of such schemes;
   the increased possibilities for fraudulent use in the absence of proper supervision;

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(8) ("the Services Directive");
   independent consumer references posted on websites to assist new consumers when making choices;
and asks the Commission to facilitate the exchange of best practice in relation to such schemes;

22.  Notes that the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive covers the 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 those operating in more than one Member State, such as 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 might be hindered by a lack of adequate resources for financing the introduction of such marks);

24.  Firmly believes that trustmarks offer small and medium-sized enterprises 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, after consulting consumers' organisations, to present 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. users" rights and obligations when using digital content), users" rights guaranteeing basic interoperability standards, and the rights of particularly vulnerable users (i.e. improving the accessibility of internet pages for disabled persons); in the event of it being temporarily impossible to prepare the charter due to the dynamic development of this area, calls on the Commission to present a guide explaining the rights and obligations of information society players under the current acquis;

26.  Calls on the Commission to establish basic users" freedoms and rights in the information society; considers that, in this respect, some users" freedoms and rights should 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 also digital technology enable consumers to be offered a wide range of new products and services, and that intellectual property forms the very basis of such services; considers that consumers - in order to profit fully from such services and have their expectations fulfilled - need clear information on what they can and cannot do with regard to digital content, digital rights management and technological protection matters; is convinced that consumers should be entitled to interoperable solutions;

28.  Calls on the Commission to disseminate the European charter of users' rights, and to encourage Member States and organisations concerned to disseminate it widely to all internet users, so that those users are aware of their rights and are able to enforce 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. 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 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 that 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 certain Member States and force consumers to use their websites in the State in which the consumer is resident or whose nationality he or she holds;

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 how the practice of territorial licensing or exclusive territorial contracts conflicts 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 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; calls on the Commission to present, to Parliament and the Council, a report on the implementation of the e-commerce directive, identifying questions related to consumer confidence;

37.  Welcomes the suggestion made by the Commission in its Green Paper on the Review of the Consumer Acquis 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(9) ;

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 and so on) 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 transactions 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 the supplier is an intermediary or an end supplier;

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

43.  Calls on the Commission to strengthen consumer protection in cases where the consumer assumes all contractual risks, for example by paying in advance, and 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 and practical orientation regarding ADR possibilities, 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 trends in consumer protection in e-commerce carried out 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 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

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

(2) OJ C 292 E, 1.12.2006, p. 109.
(3) OJ C 305 E, 14.12.2006, p. 247.
(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 149, 11.6.2005, p. 22.
(7) OJ L 178, 17.7.2000, p. 1.
(8) OJ L 376, 27.12.2006, p. 36.
(9) OJ L 171, 7.7.1999, p. 12.

Last updated: 26 February 2008Legal notice