E-commerce Sector Inquiry

This portal will provide you with all the necessary information on the antitrust competition inquiry of the European Commission (“Commission”) into the e-commerce sector in the European Union. This information portal will be frequently updated following questions from companies and relevant legal developments.

Vertical agreements (agreements between undertakings that operate at different levels of the distribution chain such as franchise agreements) and e-commerce recently became a focus of attention among competition authorities within the European Union, including the Netherlands. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers & Markets (“ACM”) published its position on vertical agreements on 20 April 2015 accompanied by an information chart and press release. Several weeks before, the Commission announced its intention to commence a sector inquiry into e‑commerce (including e-tailing). On 6 May 2015, the Commission effectively launched the e-commerce sector inquiry in light of its Digital Agenda for Europe 2010-2020. The launch was shortly followed by the publication of the Commission’s three-pronged plan to boost e-commerce in which geo-blocking was presented as a priority issue for the EU. The Commission acted directly upon its plan by proposing new legislation to lift or at least reduce existing barriers on cross-border trade on 25 May 2016.

The Preliminary Report on the results of the e-commerce sector inquiry was published by the Commission on 15 September 2016, and already points out the main developments and concerns the Commission identified in relation to e-commerce. The Commission is currently processing feedback from market players and has scheduled to publish the Final Report in the first quarter of 2017. Barriers to e-commerce can be qualified as anti-competitive practices, for instance in the case of dual pricing policies, online sales bans, and geo-blocking.

The German, UK and French competition authorities (Bundeskartellamt, Competition & Markets AuthorityCMA” and Autorité de la concurrence) have continuously shown to be very active when it comes to investigating possible competition violations regarding e-commerce, especially in the online hotel booking sector and accommodation booking websites.

It is clear that both the Commission and the national competition authorities will continue to closely monitor possible anti-competitive online distribution agreements and restrictions on the development of internet sales in general. The enforcement policies currently applied to online markets may have major consequences for both manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors. Companies are therefore well advised to thoroughly scrutinise their (internet) distribution agreements.

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