European Union regulators plan to open a year-long extensive investigation into e-commerce as part of their efforts to remove online sales barriers and boost cross-border trade in the 28-nation bloc. – A move that may lead to antitrust actions against companies which deliberately block online sales. Online retailers face an industry-wide probe from the European Commission which has been triggered by concerns that Internet shoppers may be thwarted when trying to buy goods and services from online traders outside their EU home country. The European Commission sees indications that some companies may be taking anti-competitive measures to restrict cross-border e-commerce, preventing Europeans based in one EU member state to buy products in another. According to the European Commission, while one in two EU consumers shopped online last year, just 15% bought a product online in another EU member state. The competition probe is part of a wider EU effort to stoke Europe’s digital economy. In a previous investigation into online sales of consumer electronic and electrical products, the Commission raided several retailers in December 2013 and earlier this month. In addition, European competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, today announced that the EU Commission was also investigating the alleged “geoblocking” of online video games sales for personal computers which prevents consumers in one EU member state from buying online games in another. Preliminary results from the inquiry are said to be due by mid-2016; with the timing certainly reflecting on the scope of the investigation. In the upcoming weeks, the EU Commission intends to send out questionnaires to EU member states as well as to a number of companies. The Commission can open formal proceedings against companies if the inquiry finds evidence of breaches of EU competition law. Previous market inquiries targeted the pharmaceutical and banking sectors, which led to formal proceedings and monetary fines against several firms. Vestager confirmed that the inquiry was not targeted at U.S. companies which are major players in e-commerce.
Dr. Anika Schürmann is a counsel in Baker McKenzie’s Düsseldorf office. She joined the Firm in 2013, and advises in antitrust and competition law, as well as in white collar crime and compliance investigations. She is admitted to the Dusseldorf bar and is a member of the German Association of Antitrust Lawyers as well as the Criminal Law Section of the German Bar Association. Prior to joining Baker McKenzie, Mrs. Schürmann was a member of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s antitrust team (2007-2011), and practiced in a Düsseldorf law firm that specializes in white collar crime law (2012-2013).