EU Adopts E-Commerce Framework Directive

BRUSSELS (05/04/2000) - The European Union has approved key legislation to regulate electronic commerce across the 15 member states, Jonathan Todd, a European Commission spokesman, announced today.

"This is proof that the Lisbon Summit is having an impact by accelerating the rate of legislative action," Todd said, referring to the commitments made by EU heads of state in a March meeting to push through all EU proposals regulating e-commerce by the end of this year.

With the global market for electronic commerce growing rapidly, with estimates placing its value at $1.4 trillion by 2003, according to the Commission, EU leaders view its unhindered development in the union as vital for the future competitiveness of European industry.

This so-called framework Directive is the centerpiece of EU efforts to promote e-commerce, but several other legislative proposals viewed as important for its development await EU adoption later this year. These include directives regulating digital copyright protection, electronic money and the selling of financial services.

The framework Directive establishes the principle that single market EU rules apply to e-commerce services just like every other activity in the EU. It aims to eliminate legal obstacles to the pan-European provision of on-line services and in this way to nip in the bud diverging national rules.

To achieve these objectives, the proposal sets out common principles for several issues that the Commission believes are sufficient to guarantee the free circulation of online services, notably regarding rights of establishment, online conclusion of contracts and finally, liability for illegal transmissions that violate rules on copyright, protection of minors or involve criminal activity.

The Directive also seeks to ensure high levels of protection for the consumer, notably by giving the user the right to opt out of unsolicited e-mail messages (spam) by signing up with opt-out registers in their home country. Service providers must consult these registers regularly, according to the text of the Directive.

The Directive exempts service providers from liability for the transmission of illegal material if, upon receiving facts about the illegal nature of a transmission, they act rapidly to remove the transmission from the network or to disable access to it. Where a service consists of the storage of information, service providers will not be held liable for illegal material if they do not have factual information about the illegal nature of the information.

Earlier today, the European Parliament approved its second reading on the Directive. EU rules stipulate that in such situations a proposal is viewed as formally adopted and does not require final consideration by the Council of Ministers. This is the first time that this provision has been used, because normally the parliament amends Council proposals.

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