Buying tickets to see a show or sporting event will cost the same in any EU country

Photo: Dai KE / Unsplash (CC)
Roser Reyner
However, the new European regulation excludes products protected by copyright, such as TV series and music

The European Parliament says that it has received complaints from consumers who, when hiring a car in an EU country, have had to pay more than in other European countries. The same could occur when purchasing tickets for sporting events from outside country. It may even be the case that we can’t make the purchase in question from our home country. This is known as geo-blocking. A new law passed by the European Parliament in early February aims to put a stop to such barriers, unless they can be justified. It aims to push towards making the digital market a single market too. However, some are already saying that the law doesn’t go far enough. This is the case with the experts at the UOC, for two main reasons: the new legislation overlooks products such as audiovisual content, and with regard to physical products, in practice it won’t simplify the purchasing process.

The measure has the potential to benefit many users, bearing in mind that, according to a Eurostat study using 2017 data, almost 7 out of 10 European internet users have made purchases online during the last year, a figure which is increasing. And it also has the virtue of strengthening the EU: “Its strength will involve creating a single market that behaves in the same way in all member states, including, vitally, the digital market”. Blanca Torrubia, professor of the UOC Faculty of Law and Political Science, explains. “Companies, and in particular micro-companies and small and medium-sized companies, apply different conditions of access owing to the uncertainty generated by the diversity of legal environments, and this artificially segments the internal market and limits the rights of consumers, who are unable to enjoy more and better opportunities to choose from”, she adds. Therefore, now “the aim is to integrate the two purchasing areas, online and offline, so that different rules are not applied”, summarizes Neus Soler, course instructor at the UOC Faculty of Economics and Business.

This is a very complex issue in which we should bear in mind that “transport and audiovisual services and gaming activities are excluded from the scope of the legislation”, Torrubia points out. So what changes will European consumers see in practice in online purchases from another EU member state? And what will we still be unable to do?

Digital products and services: without copyright

The new legislation establishes that when a company sells its digital services or products via the internet, it has to do so under the same conditions for any citizen of the European Union member states. Consequently, with the same access and price from any country. For example, the legislation affects data storage services and web servers, ticket purchases for shows, sporting events or theme parks, as well as vehicle hire.

In Neus Soler's opinion, the measure is beneficial for consumers, but “it remains to be seen how interesting it is for small and medium-sized companies”. “If I want my website to be housed in a German server, the German company, simply because of the communication it will need to have with me, in my language, or the commissions the bank will charge it for me to make payment, may have added costs, yet it will have to offer me the product at the same price”, she warns.

However, there are other digital products which, for the time being, are excluded from the legislation. This is the case with content protected by copyright, such as e-books, music and video games. “The national protection of intellectual and industrial property rights is a permitted exception to the free movement of goods and services”, Torrubia underlines. It also excludes audiovisual and transport services.

Therefore, to give an example, Netflix will continue to have the right not to let us watch certain content, depending on the country we live in, and to charge different prices. Furthermore, people who speak languages that are minority languages in the country they live in will still find it difficult to consume certain audiovisual products in their own language, which they could watch in other countries, as the aforementioned MEPs point out.

However, the European Parliament has agreed to review this aspect in two years' time.

Physical products: price and delivery

In terms of buying physical products via the internet, the situation is more complex, because the new law states that the conditions of sale via the internet must be identical in the case of goods such as domestic appliances, electronic goods or fashion goods. This is established in two contexts. The first context is where they are delivered to customers in a member state in which the seller offers sale via the internet and the physical distribution of its products. In this case, the complication could be setting the same prices for all member states, as Soler points out.

The second context is where both parties agree a collection point in cases where the seller does not have any physical premises in the country of the buyer and offers this option. Here, an added complication could be the delivery, “an issue which this law excludes”, Torrubia points out. “If in the end the customer pays for the delivery cost, by travelling to collect the product, the measure will only be profitable for fans of the latest products, who prioritize getting hold of the latest technology products, for example iPhone fans, who don't mind paying more to have the product sooner. However, this means that the main benefit this legislation should offer, in other words, a greater diversity and range of products for the consumer, is totally diluted”, Soler stresses. In this regard, the European Parliament is planning to vote next month on legislation covering cross-border parcel deliveries.