European Parliament Defends Retailers’ Right to Sell on Online Platforms

June 13, 2013

On 12 June, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on the Annual Report on EU Competition Policy, telling the European Commission and national competition authorities what it believes to be the priorities under competition law. One such priority is safeguarding the ability of distributors to use  innovative distribution methods such as online platforms.

The Parliament’s Resolution is adopted in response to the European Commission’s Annual Report on the application of EU competition law. However, the Resolution is no longer confined to commenting on the Commission’s findings. Nowadays, it identifies key issues of competition law and its application and presents the Parliament’s position on these issues.

This year’s Resolution stresses the role of competition policy in supporting the Europe 2020 Strategy. Two themes emerge in particular. First, competition policy should facilitate “the entry of new actors and the emergence of new ideas and techniques”. Second, competition policy should better support SMEs as job creators and participants in the internal market.

Both themes are addressed by the Parliament’s request that the Commission combats discriminatory practices in the area of online distribution. The call is on the Commission to ensure that the Vertical Restraints Block Exemption Regulation safeguards the “ability of distributors to use innovative distribution methods such as online platforms and to reach a greater number and variety of customers”.

The Resolution’s request is preceded by calls for action by Members of the European Parliament. On 18 December 2012, MEP François Castex asked the Commission what it was doing to sanction abusive and discriminatory practices, implemented by means of selective distribution agreements, which “seriously curtail the development of electronic and mobile trade in the EU”. On 9 January 2013, MEP Andreas Schwab, again, called the Commission’s attention to the issue of contractual restrictions preventing authorized distributors from setting up web shops on online platforms.

Responding to the European Parliament’s call for safeguarding the ability of distributors to use online platforms requires urgent and unambiguous action by the European Commission and/or national competition authorities.