Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

The Eu Digital Single Market from a Consumer Standpoint: How Do Promises Meet Means?

Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

The Eu Digital Single Market from a Consumer Standpoint: How Do Promises Meet Means?

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The Digital Single Market ("DSM") is one of the most prominent current projects of the EU and the European legislator, in particular the European Commission ("Commission"). For European consumers, the DSM is great news: "In a Digital Single Market, there are fewer barriers, and more opportunities: it is a seamless area where people and business can trade, innovate and interact legally, safely, securely, and at an affordable cost, making their lives easier."1 The DSM is "one in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured and where individuals and businesses can seamlessly access and exercise online activities under conditions of fair competition, and a high level of consumer and personal data protection."2 Moreover, "(s)implified and modern rules for online and digital cross-border purchases will encourage more businesses to sell online across borders and increase consumer confidence in cross-border e-commerce,"3 and "Europeans will soon be able to fully use their online subscriptions to films, sports events, e-books, video games or music services when travelling within the EU."4

Nevertheless, these impressive promises and aims may raise the question whether everything the DSM seeks to deliver may be achieved as effectively and as soon as communicated. Furthermore, goals such as those listed above are actually contingent upon numerous complex legal issues which might not be resolved by relatively quickly-drafted legislation and few targeted competition investigations. Moreover, if the action taken is pointillist and only tackles some aspects of the challenges of e-commerce and online distribution, the remaining difficulties and divergences in applicable rules might undermine the benefits of action taken.

Even now, the intended pace for developing the legal framework and remedying potential problems appears somewhat challenging. The original DSM Strategy documents declared that sixteen more detailed initiatives would be published by the end of 2016.5 Of the relevant focus areas, some have (publicly) progressed only after 2016. Moreover, some of the promised "detailed initiatives" have only entailed relatively preliminary public documents.6

This article discusses the implications of the DSM Strategy from the standpoint of consumers. The emphasis is on consumer protection and competition issues as well as on the position of consumers from market and transaction perspectives. For example, privacy and data protection matters are mainly excluded from the scope of this analysis. The study analyses the goals of DSM, and how consumer-related aims are discussed in official documents, and mirrors the expressed aims as well as concerns with concrete legislative proposals and action taken, in particular, by the European Commission.

The goals of this study include critically discussing the focus and justification of legislative proposals and law enforcement in the context of the DSM Strategy. The observations presented in this article may contribute to assessing the quality and usefulness of initiatives under the DSM umbrella. Additionally, the findings of this study raise the question whether consumer-focused "rhetoric of aims" is partially misleading, for example promising more than the European legislator is delivering.

Many aspects discussed in this contribution could be explored further and in more detail. Nevertheless, the aim of this article is an overarching look at DSM initiatives, materials and different related aspects from the standpoint of rhetoric concerning improving the position of consumers.

The following Sections address central DSM goals, plans, and measures affecting the position of consumers in terms of e-commerce in physical goods (Section 2), digital content (Section 3) and competition issues (Section 4). In the Discussion Section (5), analytical remarks are presented in terms of achieving goals and the concrete, practical effects of plans and measures. …

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