According to research by the European Union more than 60% of websites in the EU do not let consumers buy from another EU country. So on Wednesday, the European Commission announced measures to do something about it.
If the proposals, which are part of the commission's Digital Single Market strategy, come into force customers will be entitled to buy products, such as electronics, clothes, sportswear, or books, from traders in other EU countries in the same way as their domestic customers.
However, there's a catch. The commission plans to guarantee only the right to buy the product, not the shipping. Retailers will not be obliged to offer cross-border delivery, and customers will only be entitled to delivery inside the trader's home country, just like local shoppers.
In other words, if you live in Italy and find an amazing deal on a German website for that giant American fridge you have always wanted, you will be entitled to buy it – but only if you're willing to go and pick it up yourself.
A spokesperson for the commission told BuzzFeed News that the proposals do not "introduce an obligation to deliver across the European Union, which would be disproportionate. It defines specific situations where customers cannot be denied access to products and services solely for reasons relating to nationality, place of residence, or place of establishment."
Other proposals announced on Wednesday include banning the use of automatic re-routing without a customer's prior consent, and allowing customers to access different national websites.
For example, a British customer may want to access an online clothing retailer's Italian site, but even if they type in the Italian URL they get redirected to the British site. If the commission's proposals come into force, this redirection will require the explicit consent of the user, and even if the customer consents to being redirected, the original version they sought to visit should also remain accessible.
The EU also wants to increase the regulatory oversight of parcel delivery services. It says that to send a comparable parcel from the Netherlands to Spain costs €13, while to do the same thing in reverse would cost €32.74. The commission aims to improve this situation by ensuring transparency of prices for parcel delivery across the EU.
But the commission is keen to stress that it's not proposing a cap on delivery prices. It says that price regulation is only a means of last resort, and it will reassess if further measures are needed in 2019.
Streaming services, such as Netflix, will also face EU content quotas.
One the most anticipated measures that the EU confirmed today is a plan to force on-demand streaming services, such as Netflix, to devote at least 20% of their catalogues to European content.
Although the size of European catalogues varies significantly between countries, the proposal is a bit of a red herring given that the share of European content in on-demand catalogues is already higher (27%) than the proposed quota.
In Netflix's case, more than 20% of programming in member states is from Europe already. The company is also ramping up its European content. It recently launched its first Netflix original produced in Europe, Marseille, and will launch a second Europe-produced original, The Crown, later this year. The company has other European series in the works, and also partners and licenses programming from several broadcasters, including including the BBC.
The commission also clarified that member states can ask on-demand services available in their country to contribute financially to producing films and TV shows. This suggestion could have a greater impact on the on-demand industry than quotas because while European TV broadcasters invest around 20% of their revenues in original content, on-demand providers currently invest less than 1%. However, the commission was keen to spell out that nothing it proposed today amounted to an "EU tax".
Alberto Nardelli is Europe editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alberto Nardelli at email@example.com.
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