GeoBlocking – contractual freedom versus non discrimination

BDI KAS Workshop Series 'Forum on Legal Affairs and Internal Market'

On 27 September 2016, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung hosted the 3rd session of the ‘Forum on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market’ in cooperation with the Federation of German Industries (BDI) at the European Office in Brussels. The workshop was dedicated to the topic “GeoBlocking – contractual freedom versus non discrimination”.

In May 2016 the European Commission published its e-commerce package, a comprehensive approach to stimulating cross-border e-Commerce for Europe’s citizens and businesses. A major component of the package is the proposal for a regulation on addressing geo-blocking within the internal market. The proposal prohibits the blocking of access to websites and other online interfaces and the rerouting of customers from one country version to another. Furthermore, it prohibits discrimination against customers in four specific cases of the sale of goods and services and does not allow the circumventing of such a ban on discrimination in passive sales agreements. Whereas the objectives of the proposal have to be welcomed (to stimulate cross-border trade, reduce barriers and increase transparency of goods and services offered online to stop any possible discrimination of customers), it is also important to respect the principles to conduct a business and the freedom of contract.

Our panelists discussed the opportunities and challenges of the Commission’s proposal for companies and citizens. Dr. Heiko Willems (Head of the Legal Affairs, Competition and Consumer Policy Department of the BDI) moderated the workshop after a brief opening statement by Dr Stefan Gehrold (Director, KAS European Office). The round of experts was joined by Mr Jürgen Tiedje (Head of Unit ‘Service Policy for Consumers’, DG GROW, European Commision) and Mr Imrich Csiba (Second Secretary, Consumer Protection, Internal Market at the Slovakian Presidency). The panel agreed that prices on national websites should be available to all international customers and that customer protection needs adaption within different member states. They also agreed on the difficulty of defining where price differentiation ends and price discrimination starts, which is why it is complicated to introduce a regulation on geo-blocking into the Internal Market.

Selina Schleicher