EU e-commerce directives contradictory

E-business legal experts and UK MEPs are meeting to discuss how to tackle the European Commission's conflicting directives on...

E-business legal experts and UK MEPs are meeting to discuss how to tackle the European Commission's conflicting directives on e-commerce.

The e.centre, the UK's independent e-business trade association, is hosting the meeting, which aims to highlight issues about where legal liability for e-commerce lies.

The E-commerce Directive, which encourages online trading within the single market, supports the country-of-origin principle. This requires legal action against an online supplier to be taken in the suppliers' country.

However, the more recently issued Brussels Regulation says that legal disputes arising from online trading should be dealt within the jurisdiction of the customer's country.

The contradiction has left many small businesses reluctant to start online trading for fear of finding themselves embroiled in costly legal cases brought against them in foreign countries.

David Marsh, chairman of the e.centre's legal advisory group, said he was "sceptical" about whether the EU, which traditionally champions consumers rights, would be concerned enough about industry worries to change its policy. However, he did hope a compromise could be achieved.

"An EU-sponsored Alternative Dispute Resolution System (ADRS) will help keep many contractual disputes arising from online trading out of court, which would mean considerable reductions in both cost and time for both parties," said Marsh.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), one of the e.centre's partners in the Alliance for Electronic Business (AEB), was also doubtful that the problem could be resolved.

The CBI said: "We are determined to continue fighting to have this situation resolved in the interests of businesses, but past experiences tell us that we may still be unsuccessful."

MEP Diana Wallis, who will attend the e.centre meeting, said: "There are worries that SMEs might be increasingly cautious of trading online. The aim must be to ensure that business risk is reduced to a minimum or can be insured against at reasonable cost, at the same time balancing this against respect for existing consumer rights."

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