An Integrated Digital Economy for the Consumer

By Eva MAYDELL, MEP (EPP Group), Member of the IMCO Committee

With the fall of some of the barriers between the national online markets in Europe, the role of consumers has changed dramatically. From people who just visit stores nearby and buy what we are offered on the spot, we increasingly have become people searching for a particular item, no matter where it is stored physically, we are already choosing the best deals, we are sharing information in our online and offline networks, we are rating and writing reviews thus creating the image of companies and products.

In other words, in a digital environment in which borders are becoming more and more blurred, the role of the consumer became central and very influential, a role that leads to changes in the business behavior.

On the other hand, the integrated digital environment gives something really impressive, something that all consumers have always dreamed of – choice – the more, the better. The ability everyone to freely offer products without the restriction of territory and location creates a new planet of opportunities for the consumers.

Many people will say that much of this picture is not a complete reality; that there are too many issues that prevent people from shopping online. And I agree to a certain extent. There is one thing that we must strive for in the process of developing the Digital Single Market and this is consumers’ trust.

Trust in the regulatory framework and mechanisms that despite that you do not see the seller, you have the rights and the protection of a consumer.

When we talk about digital economy we also need fair play. This is especially important for the small and medium enterprises and the startups; for those people who decide to take small business ventures into e-commerce. This is also important for consumers because it guarantees competition which eventually leads to better prices, quality and innovation.

Yet how fit is our legal framework? Most of the regulations, both national and EU, are lagging behind in the technological development. The European institutions have a clear idea of what needs to be changed to get the trust we need to make the integrated digital economy a valuable asset for both the consumer and the business. We have at least several elements on which we are working very hard already.

Building on our success on Portability of online content, we must seal a good deal on geoblocking, hopefully by mid-2018. Secondly, we need to secure the payments. In 2015 the EU adopted a new directive on payment services (PSD 2) to improve the existing rules and take new digital payment services into account. The directive will become applicable in 2018.

But the devil as always lies in the detail and currently EC and the European Banking Authority (EBA) are finalising the Regulatory Technical Standards under PSD2. After two rounds of consultations there are just 4 minor outstanding issues but importantly the main points for both the traditional banks and FinTechs are already set.

Thirdly, we are already working on parcel services, so that they are affordable, trans- parent and high-quality cross-border service. The European Commission already presented a legislative proposal as part of its new e-commerce package. Trilogues between the Parliament and the Council are expected to begin this autumn and hopefully the deal will be sealed in 2018.

We still have several issues that remain like VAT application transparency for the online sales. We therefore need to ensure the interoperability of systems, the use of common standards and that the same rules apply online as offline.

Regardless of what we legislate though, there is one important element that should not be overlooked and this is digital literacy, the awareness of the consumers in the digital economy, however I do not believe that awareness can be achieved with legislation but rather with soft instruments such as interactive campaigns.

We need to be really careful when creating this new legal framework. As a MEP, I am convinced that the rules should not impose burdensome requirements on business. On the contrary, any rules of the Digital Single Market and aiming to integrating the digital economy in Europe should be made with the clear idea that the digital economy must be win-win for both consumers and businesses.

The Internet should become an environment where small and medium sized enterprises can easily create their own businesses and offer their products.

Similarly, there is an ongoing debate on what regulations should be introduced on the Internet so that a balance between the business needs for the development of the data economy and the consumers who provide their information is set. The consumers’ security in the Internet is the first and foremost because, as I already stated this digital environment needs trust. On the other hand, however, we must be careful not to kill one strong and important evolving industry as the data economy, which actually creates products for the benefit of the people.