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The European Commission launched three separate investigations on 2 February 2017 to assess whether certain online sales practices prevent, contrary to EU antitrust rules, consumers from enjoying cross-border choice and being able to buy consumer electronics, video games and hotel accommodation at competitive prices. There are signs that businesses may themselves establish barriers to cross-border online trade, for the purpose of fragmenting the EU’s Single Market along national borders and preventing competition. The three investigations aim at tackling the specific issues of retail price restrictions, discrimination on the basis of location and geo-blocking.

The above formal proceedings are the first follow-up steps on some of the issues identified in the Commission’s competition sector inquiry on e-commerce. The Commission launched the e-commerce sector inquiry in May 2015 in the context of its Digital Single Market strategy, which had identified a number of regulatory barriers that hinder cross-border e-commerce. One of the main parts of the Digital Single Market strategy is to ensure better access for consumers and businesses to goods and services.

The next important step in the Digital Single Market strategy was the agreement reached on 10 February 2017 by negotiators of the European Parliament, the Member States and the European Commission. This is the first agreement related to the modernization on EU copyright rules, which will reflect new ways how Europeans may enjoy culture and entertainment services online when they travel around the EU. Europeans will soon be able to fully use their online subscriptions to films, sports events, e-books, video games or music services when travelling within the EU. The agreed text must now be formally confirmed by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. Once adopted, the rules will become applicable in all EU Member States as of 2018 as the Regulation grants providers and right holders a 9-month period to prepare for the application of the new rules.