News | 2018

I. New EU Norms for Online Platforms

mobile phoneAt the end of April 2018, the European Commission proposed the much-awaited regulation aimed at promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services. Given the relevance of the digital economy, and the necessity of strengthening the Digital Single Market, the new rules are expected to contribute to a safer and fairer business environment, in particular for small enterprises and traders that rely on online platforms to attract their clients.
Both online platform intermediaries (e.g. third-party e-commerce market places, app stores, price comparison tools) and general online search engines will be covered by the new regulation. These providers of online intermediation services will be required to establish a set of understandable and fair terms and conditions in their contractual relationships with businesses. Dispute settlement will be more effective, by establishing an internal complaint-handling system. Moreover, the online providers will have to indicate a list of external mediators in their contracts, in order to facilitate off-court dispute resolution. Failure to comply with the proposed rules would be enforced by the EU member states.
According to the European Commission, the new regulation will fill in a legal gap in the business-to-business relationships. However, for the businesses affected, it would require compliance with a set of stringent and incisive rules rather than a flexible approach to address current shortcomings.

II. EU’s Battle Against Plastics Continues

plasticsBy the end of May 2018, the EU Commission is expected to propose a new directive, which aims to ban certain plastic products, such as cutlery, plates and balloon sticks. According to the European Commission, the proposal is justified by the presence of “readily available alternatives” to these items. The proposal would yet be a further step towards the implementation of the EU Plastics Strategy.
Opinions diverge on the issue, NGOs and other stakeholders applaud the initiative, the industry raises concerns over available alternative, which are not always environmentally friendlier, nor safer to use for children and consumers. On top, consumers most likely will face increased costs when buying alternative products. Hence, calls for educational campaigns on the use of plastics, as well as an enhanced recycle and circular economy strategy are being mentioned as the preferred options

The proposal is expected to go under severe scrutiny in the EU institutions. Stakeholders would be well advised to increase lobbying capacities, in order to make their voice heard in the discussion.

III. New EU Rules to Fight Online Disinformation

fake newsAfter the recent public and political outcry over the mishandling of data by social media giants, and in light of the long-standing objective of tackling fake news, the European Commission unveiled a set of rules to address the issue of online disinformation. The initiative is also expected to promote quality journalism and media literacy.
Among the new measures, online platforms are asked to develop jointly a Code of Practice on Disinformation, which should include provisions on transparency in online content and sanctions against fake accounts. Users should be allowed to have easier access to alternative news and viewpoints. The European Commission also proposed the creation of a network of independent fact-checkers, which should allow for factual corrections when necessary.
It is widely acknowledged that misleading and inaccurate online contents pose a threat. However, the recent proposals have also raised concerns. In particular, there is a fine line between tackling the issue, while not negatively influencing press and media freedom. On top, there are concerns over trusting online platforms with the role of gatekeepers for digital content.

IV. EU Aims to Improve Company Law

improve company lawsRecently, the European Commission drafted new company law rules to facilitate company mergers, divisions and moves, as well as to facilitate the digital transformation of companies during it’s entire life cycle. The package consists of two proposed directives.
According to the proposals, companies will now be able to follow a unified and easier mechanism to move from a member state to another. Moreover, online procedures to register, set new branches or send documents to the business register will be made available for companies in all the member states. This is expected to have a positive impact on businesses by reducing procedural times and cutting the related costs
However, the Commission’s proposal also contains norms against artificial arrangements, in particular to prevent tax-abuses and to protect creditors, shareholders and workers’ rights. The national authorities will have, therefore, the power to scrutinize the true aim of cross-border conversions.
With the proposal, the European Commission introduces further steps towards a common EU framework, which will improve company mobility and freedom. The proposals will now be debated and potentially amended in the European Parliament and European Council.

V. EU Wants to Strengthen Consumer Rights

costumer rightsThe European Commission presented new norms to strengthen consumer rights and to ensure their actual enforcement. The package, named “A New Deal for Consumers”, aims both at protecting consumers, and at improving business conditions.
Among the novelties, new transparency provisions are introduced regarding online market places. For example, consumers will have to be informed whether they deal with a private individual or a trader. Moreover, information and withdrawal rights will be extended to “free” digital services, for which the consumers provide their personal data without paying any costs. Finally, a class action promoted by consumers’ associations will be made available in all EU Member States. Businesses infringing the new rules will face penalties up to 4% of the trader’s annual turnover in each member state.
Whereas the proposed set of rules increases sanctions against the violations of EU consumer law and unfair commercial practices, businesses are expected to also benefit from the new norms. In particular, in case of withdrawal, traders will not have to reimburse consumers before receiving back their products. At the same time, traders will be allowed for more flexibility in communications with their clients, by using alternative web options such as chats.
Needless to say, that the proposal touches upon a plethora of sectors and interests. A lengthy and competitive debate in the EU institutions is destined.

VI. EU Proposes New Norms on Food Safety

food safetyThe European Commission has reacted to several European Citizens’ Initiatives and proposed a targeted revision of the 2002 General Food Law Regulation, in order to promote public trust in scientific studies conducted on food safety.
The key aspects of this ambitious proposal are, amongst others, to significantly increase transparency for consumers by giving access to all relevant information and studies, to establish a common EU register of commissioned studies to ensure that all initiatives are filed, and to improve the risk communication to citizens to boost consumer confidence. In addition, the European Food Safety Authority, as well as the European Commission will be allowed to request further investigations and studies financed by the EU budget.
The new rules are an important element in building public trust on food safety and on the approval of new products. Important to highlight the aim of increased involvement of stakeholders and the public in the consultation process of studies submitted by the industry in relation to authorization request.