Negotiations begin on European contract for online sales
By Jakub Iwaniuk in Warsaw | Monday 14 November 2011
A ministerial conference, on 9-10 November in Warsaw, organised by the Polish EU Presidency, marked the kick-off of negotiations on the controversial proposal on changes in European law governing online sales contracts. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding seems to want to make sure that debates advance at a good pace, after presenting her proposal, on 11 October (see
Europolitics 4278 and 4283). “We have no time to waste. We have to move forward very quickly,” she announced at the closing of the conference. Reding can count on the support of the European Parliament and the Polish EU Council Presidency, which strongly backs the proposal. “We are going to redouble our efforts to take the discussions as far as possible up to the Justice and Home Affairs Council in December,” added Polish Justice Minister Krzysztof Kwiatkowski.
The Commission proposes to introduce an optional contract law instrument (the ‘28th legal system’) that would function in parallel with the member states’ 27 systems without calling them into question. It would govern the principles of online sales only if the buyer and seller both agree to use it. On a proposal from the seller, the system would enable the consumer making an online purchase to choose between his member state’s law or the European instrument as the basis for the contract.
According to the Polish government, which has made this issue a priority of its Presidency, 60% of cross-border online transactions are not concluded in the EU because of the multiplicity of national legislations. The Commission estimates that this barrier to development of the common market costs European companies €26 billion in lost earnings every year. However, consumer groups and certain influential member states, led by France and the United Kingdom, have misgivings about the proposal. They are concerned that the new instrument will not guarantee consumers’ rights sufficiently.
The Polish Presidency acknowledges that the 28th legal system will not provide as high a level of consumer protection as what exists in some member states. “This is a matter of choice, but the advantages gained in terms of freedom for the consumer and new market prospects for businesses are significant,” said a member of the Polish delegation. “National laws will remain intact in any case and high consumer protection is guaranteed by the treaty.” The document is being reviewed by the Council’s working groups and the European Parliament will soon be launching hearings of stakeholders. Redding hopes the work can be completed by the end of 2012.