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EU law failing to cope with e-commerce - says new research
Keywords E-commerce, International law, EU
John Dickie, a doctoral researcher at the University of Warwick's School of Law, has criticised the EU's attempts to provide a legal framework for the explosive phenomenon of Internet commerce. The research, published today in the book Internet and Electronic Commerce Law in the EU, identifies three main areas of concern:
Delays - EU legal processes are too time-consuming in comparison to the pace of change in the electronic marketplace. Laws often take four to six years to move from initial proposal to finally taking effect in Member States. One Directive, on consumer contracts made at a distance (such as on the Internet), has taken eight years.
Implementation and enforcement - Once laws are adopted, the enforcement mechanisms against defaulting Member States are slow and opaque, with cases taking up to five years to come before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. One 1995 Directive, on the protection of personal data collected electronically, has still not been fully implemented by nine of the 15 Member States. "The principal Community-level enforcement mechanism is Article 226 of the EC Treaty, which empowers the Commission to sue a Member State for failure to fulfil its Community obligations but the Commission does not have the resources to conduct over-arching reviews of Member State implementation and most enforcement action is initiated by complaints."
Complexity - "The law is a labyrinth, clouding the rules for all market actors." John Dickie criticises the number, and complexity of EU instruments applicable to Internet commerce, and the lack of co-ordination between them. He suggests that some sort of Code, or series of Codes, would help to make the law more understandable.
Despite these problems, John Dickie still believes that the EU is better placed than national governments to regulate Internet commerce, because of its cross-border characteristics. Further, the EU has a more powerful voice than the individual Member States in international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation.
The European Commission is well aware of the need to move quickly on e-commerce and has stated an aim to have a regulatory framework in place by the year 2000. However, John Dickie concludes that whilst some progress has been made, there is now no chance of this objective being met. Brussels' negotiations on Internet law are currently stalled and it is not possible to say when they might reach a conclusion.
Note for editors: The book Internet and Electronic Commerce Law in the EU is available from Hart Publishing of Oxford, ISBN 1-84113 03 11. For review copies contact Jane Parker on 01865 245 533.
For further details contact: John Dickie, School of Law, University of Warwick. Tel:'02476 524954; E-mail: email@example.com