Geo-blocking is the practice whereby consumers are blocked from accessing and buying a product or service from a website based in another EU member state. The Commission estimates that almost 65% of websites in the EU engage in this discriminatory practice. Now, thanks to a vote in the European Parliament today, new rules will forbid discrimination on the grounds of nationality, residence or place of establishment by defining the specific situations when there is no justified reason to deny access to a customer. European consumers will gain full access to certainproducts and online services from other Member States despite their nationality, residence or IP address.
Today’s decision means that a consumer in Ireland can purchase a product or service online in any other member state, just as if they were walking into a shop in that member state – with equal access, equal service and no discrimination based on their IP address, postal address or type of credit card. All cross-border customers have the same access to goods and services as local customers. That’s the way it should be in a Single Market, of which we are all a part of in the EU.
The new rules should enter into force by Christmas 2018 so that EU citizens can freely buy online from the Single Market over the holiday period.
As well as being better for consumers, the halt in geo-blocking should also help online traders, who are going to be better protected with clearer rules, including having no obligation to deliver goods. In addition, smaller traders will be better protected from passive sales restrictions that can come from suppliers, as they would not be obliged by suppliers to geo-block for business reasons.
The new rules concern buying physical goods online in the European Single Market and do not yet include copyrighted material such as e-books, e-music, video games or e-films. However, thanks to the EPP Group, of which Deirdre Clune is an active member, there is a review clause, meaning that in two years’ time, the European Commission will review the law and consider ending geo-blocking in additional sectors such as the audiovisual or transport sectors.
Today’s vote is another step towards implementing the Digital Single Market (DSM), which aims to promote and facilitate the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital, ensuring that individuals and businesses can seamlessly access and exercise online activities fairly, irrespective of their nationality or place of residence.