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EU ‘undermines’ Web commerce

Consumer activists at loggerheads with Internet industry

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So much for the Single Market. EU proposals to improve consumer rights could torpedo ecommerce retail development in Europe. Eurocrats want to introduce the right for consumers to sue companies in breach of contract in the country they live -- and not as at present - the country that the company operates from. The extra expense could cripple small ecommerce retail operators. The European Commission proposals are intended to bring two existing European Union Conventions concerning consumer contracts up to date for the Internet age. But they fatally flaw the EU's recent ecommerce directive, which articulates the principle of home-country control for companies selling internationally over the Internet, opponents argue. If they pass in to EU law, companies will have to cope with consumer contract laws from 15 different countries. But it's a big if. Four senior Eurocrats have declared their opposition to the proposals and they still require rubber stamping by the Council of Ministers. So there's everything to play for on the lobbying front. First off the block is an 11-strong group of organisations representing advertisers, direct marketers and Internet service companies. It says the proposals would "undermine existing legislation and contradict the basic objective of the EU: to create the internal market." But consumer campaigners quoted by the FT claim companies have nothing to fear from the revisions, which "merely make it possible for consumers that have been cheated over the Internet to appeal to a court in their country of residence". ®

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