EU legislators should recognize the role of “online platforms” in driving e-commerce growth in Europe


In light of the current discussion at European level on “online platforms”, Ecommerce Europe asks EU policy makers to acknowledge the crucial role such platforms play for online marketplaces, shopping malls, intermediaries, search engines and comparison tools in modern B2C, B2B and C2C e-commerce. Online platforms should be seen as a driver of Europe’s socio-economic development in the digital era and not as a danger. That is why Ecommerce Europe wants to contribute to a better understanding of “online platforms” with its newly published position paper.

“We support the thorough analysis made by the Commission and such an analysis should ensure sound political understanding of online platforms’ individual and dynamic character, and the benefits they bring to consumers in the online distribution of goods, services and digital content”, declared the Secretary of Ecommerce Europe Ms. Marlene ten Ham. That is why Ecommerce Europe believes that the public consultation launched by the Commission last year on online platforms is a good start for identifying – based on strong evidence – not only the benefits but also any problems in contractual relations between the involved parties that cannot be solved by existing legal provisions.

European policy makers should take into account that there is no single definition which covers the variety of online platforms. Ecommerce Europe, for the purpose of this analysis, sees an online platform as a digital environment that enhances and drives e-commerce between the parties involved in that digital environment. Therefore, Ecommerce Europe considers that this notion should cover five different types of online platform services: online marketplaces, online shopping malls, comparison tools, search engines and intermediaries (please read the position paper for an in-depth explanation of these different platform services).

In that view, it seems more appropriate to recognize, understand and focus on the different functions, characters, the parties involved, the different contractual relations emerging in such a digital environment and the eventual problems arising on the different types of platforms, than trying to cover all these activities in one single definition.

Variety and complexity of different online platform services ask for a differentiated, vertical approach

Nowadays practice shows that all combinations of different service types are offered or are being developed. Sellers and buyers can be consumers as well as professional traders. In the view of Ecommerce Europe, it is obvious that this enormous variety of contractual relations possible between online platforms, consumers and traders form a complex ecosystem that cannot be covered by a horizontal approach.

The complexity demands a differentiated approach taking into account this enormous variety in contractual relations, the character of the platform service and the parties involved. New legislative initiatives on platform services should only be taken when proven necessary and not sufficiently covered by the pre-existing EU legal framework and when market self-regulation cannot provide for sufficient coverage. When there is a proven need for new legislative initiatives, then these should preferably be principle-based, device-neutral, technologically future-proof and pro-innovation.

For a detailed overview of Ecommerce Europe’s recommendations on online platforms, please click here to download the full position paper.