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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Commerce in Europe, gender gap in Poland less than in Germany?, 2010

Today:
  1. E-commerce key to completing internal market, says Kuneva
  2. New EU digital strategy to focus on users' rights
  3. MEPs raise fears of Services Directive delay
  4. Slovak parliament approves protectionist law
  5. European works left out of Google Books deal
Shorties:
  • Harmonise EU labour laws, say citizens
  • Business frets about growing 'water gap'
  • Brussels angry about new Chinese tech wall
Quote of the day:" I personally agree about this law. What did USA do to keep the situation under control - absolutely the same. Gave loans to banks and other sectors just to keep them alive (but of course, without calling them strategic). Why should not other countries be able to do the same?"

E-commerce key to completing internal market, says Kuneva

6 November 2009

Barriers to shopping online across borders must be eliminated if the EU's internal market is to be completed, Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said yesterday (5 November), presenting her vision for the future European consumer policy.

"We need to find the missing links in the internal market to make it more of a reality for citizens, and this will happen online," Kuneva told a debate organised by Brussels think-tank the Lisbon Council, expressing hope that a new EU directive on cross-border e-commerce would improve the situation.

"The screen is the market for citizens, but only 7% shop across borders. Attempts by consumers to buy across borders fail six times out of 10, and eight times out of 10 for electronic goods," the commissioner said, describing this as "a missed opportunity for consumers and businesses alike".

The Bulgarian was speaking at the launch of her blueprint for consumer policy in Europe, in which she argues that "consumer interests and concerns need to be appropriately articulated in the regulatory process" and that the next EU executive "must strive to develop a vibrant and innovative market in which citizens are keen to participate".

"If consumers are represented in policymaking by high-level and competent people, we can make legislation that protects them," Kuneva told participants.

Former European commissioner Mario Monti was less optimistic, however. "I wish Ms. Kuneva was entirely right, but I'm concerned that efforts made in recent years to make consumer welfare the guiding star of policymaking are under threat in Europe," he said.

"There are voices saying that a competitive market and strong consumer protection policies are luxuries that cannot be afforded at a time of crisis," the Bocconi University president warned.

Monti has been asked by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso to draw up a report on re-launching the EU internal market.

"Consumer-oriented policy should drive the re-launch of the internal market. Too often there are perceived conflicts between the internal market, competition policy and consumer policy," he said.

The Italian spoke out against the perception that market-friendly means business-friendly, and consumer-friendly means anti-market. "Commissioner Kuneva is succeeding in bringing together internal market, competition and consumer policy," he said.

Monti warned that rolling back the single market would have "dramatic consequences," particularly for employment and competitiveness, but also for European integration itself.

"The whole European project is built on the notion of market integration," he recalled, insisting that the imminent entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon "calls for a fresh look at how market and social priorities can be integrated".

Meanwhile, an EU report published last month (EurActiv 23/10/09) found that online cross-border shopping is still too burdensome for both consumers and traders alike.

60% of online purchases failed in an EU-backed test of 11,000 separate orders on cameras, CDs, books and clothes, revealed the report, which also showed that cross-border sales stayed flat at 7% while overall online sales rose from 27% to 33% in two years (2006-2008).

"Collection of personal data is taking place on a massive and unprecedented scale, often without the knowledge of the consumer," Kuneva said yesterday, announcing that more would be adding that more would be done to establish fair market access online and ensure that companies use customers’ personal data fairly.

The commissioner also expressed her wish to "shift responsibility to consumers for their own choices" in taking on financial risk, but stressed the need "to make sure they are protected".

"We'd never allow consumers to buy dangerous food or exploding hairdryers, so why do we allow them to expose themselves to catastrophic risk in retail financial services?," she said. source

My comment: It's amazing how a Commissioner who Mario Monti praised for the good job was turned down by her own government. Anyway, I sincerely how that Barroso will find madame Kuneva a good job in the EC, because she deserves it. As for consumers rights, I have the feeling they are being underestimated in the new Commission, since they are joined to the health portfolio. This is kind of sad, because as both Kuneva and Monti confirmed, the e-business is a huge market that is just starting to gain strength. And if we want to help it, we have to regulate it, because otherwise, the consumers won't feel safe to purchase and they simply won't do it. And shopping online has many many advantages, we have to use them!

New EU digital strategy to focus on users' rights

9 December 2009

Consumers will be at the core of the European Union's 'i2015' action plan for the future of the digital economy, which the EU institutions are beginning to shape and plan to deliver by spring 2010.

Protection of users' rights will be a key element of future EU policies in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), according to the converging initial plans of different EU institutions.

The European Commission intends to present its new ICT 2015 strategy in April or May 2010. According to work begun by current Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, the first pillar of the new action plan will be the creation of a genuine consumer-friendly single market for online services.

In a letter addressed to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso in November, Reding lamented the low number of cross-border online transactions, which amount to just 7% of the total, while 60% fail for legal or technical reasons.

"This is a potential we cannot afford to waste," the commissioner underlined in her letter.

She also pushed for the development of high-speed Internet connections, e-inclusion and the use of ICT to green the EU economy.

Her views are in part echoed in a report on the digital agenda currently being drafted in the European Parliament. Spanish MEP Pilar Del Castillo (EPP), who is in charge of the dossier, underlined that "the person" will be at the core of the Parliament's policy action. "Rights", "connectivity" and "competences" are the key words of the report she will present in January, which is expected to be adopted by the EU assembly in March.

Meanwhile, the incoming Spanish EU Presidency is busy shaping its own digital agenda, already labelled the 'Granada Strategy' after the Andalusian city where it will be launched at the end of April 2010.

One of the strategy's key point will be a charter of ICT users' rights, as underlined by Spanish Secretary of State for Telecommunications Francisco Ros Peràn at the annual ECTA (European Competitive Telecommunication Association) conference in Brussels yesterday (8 December).

The charter is expected to reaffirm basic online rights already protected by EU legislation, such as safety and security on the Web, online privacy and protection of minors on the Internet.

People familiar with the Spanish plans told EurActiv that the charter could also include the explicit right to use VoiP services on mobile phones, as part of a possible net neutrality right. source

don't get is why two different commissioners have almost similar agenda - consumer's rights. My comment: I find it hard to believe that a Spanish initiative might succeed to protect consumers rights - Spain is like the ultimate example of abuse of the consumers by almost everyone! I know this from personal experience, of course. But let's wait and see. What I really find odd is that two different commissioners - Kuneva and Redding - have almost similar agenda. If it's cooperation, fine, but I somehow doubt it is. Hm.

MEPs raise fears of Services Directive delay

13 November 2009

Members of the European Parliament this week urged EU member states to step up their efforts to ensure the Services Directive is implemented into national law within the agreed deadline of 31 December 2009, but more importantly, that they implement it correctly.

A debate in the European Parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee (IMCO ) saw a number of MEPs express doubt over the directive's implementation in EU member states, not merely in terms of timing but also concerning the methods used by individual countries.

One MEP's office indicated that more than half the EU 27 will not meet the deadline.

A European Commission spokesperson said Brussels would not engage in any "naming and shaming" of member states until the deadline had expired but that the EU executive was nevertheless monitoring the situation closely.

There are widespread concerns among Socialist MEPs that centre-right governments are failing to implement the directive in a socially responsible way.

In France, Socialist MEPs argued that the transposition of the directive into national law does not sufficiently respect clauses on social and health services.

In Sweden, likewise, socialists argued that the centre-right coalition government was using their "incorrect" interpretation of the directive as an excuse to remove existing laws obliging companies to have at least one member of their team act as a contact point for state bodies and trade unions.

A Commission representative told EurActiv that while the EU executive will allow member states a certain grace period for implementation if they are broadly on track, it is obliged to initiate procedures against countries that are not fulfilling their responsibilities. source

My comment: Is anyone surprised by this? I mean, you cannot really expect from a rightist government to be socially responsible. If they were, they would be leftist instead. I, of course, agree that the Commission should monitor the application of the Directive, but I think that the only thing the can do is to make sure that it is implemented to the letter and nothing else. After all, the EC cannot be a watchdog for the governments who don't care about their own citizens.

Slovak parliament approves protectionist law

6 November 2009

Slovakia's parliament approved on 5 November a widely-criticised law which protects so-called strategic companies from bankruptcy by giving the government the option to buy, restructure and find new investors for a firm.

The opposition, however, says the legislation, valid only until the end of 2010, will scare investors off and deepen legal uncertainty for the corporate sector.

Local news agency SITA cited employers group 'Klub 500' executive director Tibor Gregor as saying it was concerned about the law, adding it was unacceptable for businesses. "This law does not help to create new jobs, it rather scares new possible investors off from coming to Slovakia, because it's undermining our legal environment," said Ivan Stefanec, a deputy of the strongest opposition party SDKU.

Prime Minister Robert Fico's government has looked to raise the state's role in the economy since coming to power in 2006, aiming to shield the country from the global downturn.

Under the new legislation companies from industrial, energy and oil sectors, heat and power distributors, and water-management businesses will be regarded as strategic. Companies with more than 500 employees are also included. source

My comment: I personally agree about this law. What did USA do to keep the situation under control - absolutely the same. Gave loans to banks and other sectors just to keep them alive (but of course, without calling them strategic). Why should not other countries be able to do the same? I don't think it is a protectionist, even if it's intended as such. It's important also to know the situation in ex-socialist countries - a lot of industries are still monopolists, so if one of them crash, there's nothing to replace them! And in that sense, they are certainly strategic. Not that I get the who privatization idea when applied to our type of countries. For example, the water supply companies are from the private sector. So what do they do? Keep on increasing the price of water, while the only thing they invest into is keeping the system running! They didn't build the dams or anything else, they don't have long-term projects, they don't intend to improve their service. They only keep it running and took ever more money. That's probably a lovely business to have, but I doubt its economic or public benefit.

European works left out of Google Books deal

16 November 2009

Published works from the US, UK, Australia and Canada only will be included in Google's digital book search project, Google and book industry representatives agreed on Friday (13 November).

Works will only feature in Google Books if they have been registered in the US or come from the UK, Australia or Canada, according to the new settlement, struck in New York last week.

"The changes will mean that 95% of all foreign works will no longer be included in Google's digital book archive," Richard Sarnoff, chairman of the Association of American Publishers, told the FT.

Many European countries had voiced concerns that Google Books will harm Europe's publishing industry (EurActiv 27/05/09), with France and Germany among those fearing that the project does not adequately respect European law on the protection of author’s rights.

Meanwhile, Google's competitors are resentful of the US giant's quasi-monopoly over the nascent digital books market.

In an earlier deal struck with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers in October 2008, Google agreed to pay $125 million to create a Book Rights Registry, where authors and publishers can register works and be compensated by institutional subscriptions or book sales.

Under the terms of that settlement, all works – including those that had never been published in the US – would have been eligible for inclusion in Google's project unless the rights holders were to explicitly opt out of the scheme.

But the US Justice Department decided to investigate that deal amid concerns that it contravened copyright and antitrust law, despite recognising the potential of Google Books "to breathe life into millions of works that are now effectively off limits to the public".

Under Friday's agreement, Google Books will only include works registered in countries which have "contributed the largest number of English-language works to American libraries," made possible by similarities in their legal systems and the structure of their publishing industries.

Publishers in the UK, Canada and Australia will be represented on the board overseeing the rights registry alongside their US counterparts.

Google's opponents - represented by the Open Book Alliance, which includes Microsoft and Amazon - were quick to slam the latest developments as a "sleight of hand".

Controversy has been rife over the issue of so-called 'orphan works': books which are out-of-print or whose author cannot be traced.

Friday's deal stipulates that any money made from such works must be held for ten years in case details of the copyright holder emerge, after which time any unclaimed money will be shared among charities in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK.

A proportion of the revenue generated from unclaimed works must also be used by Google to search for rights holders.

The settlement allows Google to use its registry to sell individual online subscriptions, digital downloads and print-on-demand services. source

My comment: I find this settlement good and I don't understand why similar one wasn't used for European books as well. It looks good for the writers, at least to me. The only thing that should have been settled as well is that the digitized books won't be property of Google unless the rights owners gave Google the exclusive rights to do this. For all the other books, if another company wants to digitalize them and sell them in a similar manner, it should be able to do so. After all Google cannot acquire any exclusiveness without paying a significant sum. I hope they did settle this, because it makes perfect sense, at least to me. But I think that Europe is only losing from not willing to get a grip on the situation. Google is big, we have to handle this any way possible. And use the situation to promote all those books, that otherwise would never hit the international market.

Shorties:

Harmonise EU labour laws, say citizens

7 December 2009

A citizens' forum in Berlin last week - the last of its kind to be held in 2009 - recommended that the European Union harmonise labour laws for all its citizens.

70 regional interest groups from Germany, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Austria were represented at the conference, which debated the question of employment conditions and labour in the enlarged 27-member EU.

On the subject of the gender pay gap, it was emphasised that EU law should lead the way in removing the remaining disparities. Delegates noted that although equal pay is already enshrined in the treaties, there are still significant gaps today, and regional aspects play an important role in preserving these inequalities.

For example, in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, the pay gap is over 23%, while in Poland, it is a mere 7%.

The recommendations agreed on at the end of the conference concluded that "the EU should create the same working conditions and rules for all EU citizens based on a harmonised Labour Code, harmonising working conditions for employees and obligations for employers". source


Business frets about growing 'water gap' source


Brussels angry about new Chinese tech wall

10 December 2009

Brussels-based ICT federations are in the middle of a public procurement battle with China as the country is pursuing a "protectionist" new law favouring home-grown technology over foreign innovation, according to industry insiders.

Insiders and diplomats reveal that Brussels is putting pressure on their Chinese counterparts to lobby against a public procurement law favouring home-grown Chinese technology.

Sources say a registry for foreign companies closed yesterday afternoon (9 December) asking companies to fulfil a set of criteria for access to the Chinese market.

The law's provisions, according to sources, stipulate that at least some of a product's component parts or technology should be developed locally in order to be considered for government tenders.

Sources say the law will affect all ICT and clean-tech companies and is the extension of an earlier spat over leaks of confidential information from foreign companies to Chinese competitors. Government agencies that demanded detailed data on clean-tech products were caught leaking product information to home-grown firms (EurActiv 07/09/09).

source

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