Investigation on antitrust violations in e-commerce in sight


The European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager has recently announced an upcoming proposal to launch an investigation on competition in the e-commerce sector. The Commissioner recently declared: “It is high time to remove remaining barriers to e-commerce, which is a vital part of a true Digital Single Market in Europe. The envisaged sector inquiry will help the Commission to understand and tackle barriers to e-commerce to the benefit of European citizens and businesses.”

Barriers to cross-border e-commerce

According to Commissioner Vestager, competition in the e-commerce sector is hampered by two main kinds of barriers. Some of them are caused by public policies, fragmentation of European legislations, different taxation systems, language and many others. However, Vestager asserts it can happen that online companies themselves also erect technical barriers to the sale of goods and digital content, thus limiting opportunities for European consumers. In this case, the arrangements fall under the European Competition Law.

What are competition sector inquiries and who will be involved?

Competition sector inquiries are investigations that the European Commission may carry out when it has indications that a sector is not working as well as it should. The Commission gathers information by sending questionnaires to a large number of stakeholders across Europe, and, in this case, to manufacturers, online merchants and companies running online platforms like price-comparison and marketplace websites. The objective of the Commission is to use the information obtained to better understand the market from the perspective of competition policy and to identify issues that could restrict competition.

Next steps

Commissioner Vestager declared that she will propose the inquiry to the College of Commissioners in May, but the timeline remains vague for the moment. If, after analysing the results, the Commission identified specific competition concerns in the e-commerce sector, it could open case investigations to ensure compliance with EU rules on restrictive business practices and abuse of dominant market positions.

Considering the relevance of the inquiry for the sector, Ecommerce Europe will closely monitor the dossier and stay in close contact with the European institution to ensure that the interests of the industry will be taken into account during the process.