The objective of the EU directive on electronic commerce, Directive 2000/31/EC, is to create a legal framework to ensure the free movement of information society services between the EU member states. In this regard it provides for the regulation of information society services, the legal recognition of electronic contracts, consumer information and protection and rules on unsolicited commercial emails. The e-commerce Act 2000 gave effect to the principles of the directive concerning the legal recognition of electronic contracts. The remaining provisions in the directive that required to be given effect to in Irish law were transposed by the European Communities (Directive 2000/31/EC) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 68 of 2003). The Director of Consumer Affairs enforces the transparency provisions. The Data Protection Commissioner is responsible for the enforcement of the regulation on unsolicited commercial emails.
While experience of the application of the directive is still relatively limited, the European Commission's first report on the directive, published in December 2003, shows that it has had a positive effect on the development of e-commerce within Europe. The report is based both on the Commission's experience and on feedback received from member states, industry, professional and consumer associations and other interested parties.
While retail sales by e-commerce in Europe are still low, the prospects for growth are encouraging and successful stories of online market places, business-to-business, B2B, platforms, and online finance have emerged. The report also notes that the Internet has become a powerful tool for consumers to obtain information and compare offers in an efficient and user-friendly way, even if they do not proceed to make on-line sales. The Commission has not identified any major problems with the way in which member states have transposed the directive and it has received only a handful of notifications from member states of circumstances where they believe that permissible derogations from the terms of the directive may be warranted.
The report does point to some evidence of a lack of awareness amongst service providers of the information requirements in the directive, but also notes that such providers have responded positively and promptly when shortcomings in this regard were brought to their attention. This finding is also reflective of the experience to date of the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs in enforcing the regulations in Ireland. The ODCA website www.odca.ie also provides advice on on-line shopping for consumers. The European Consumer Centre, which is jointly funded by the European Commission and ODCA, also conducted a cross-border e-commerce project entitled, Realities of the European online marketplace, in the second half of 2002 to assess the impact of the adoption of the e-commerce and distance selling directives on Internet shopping in Europe. This report can be viewed on the ECC website www.eccdublin.ie.
The Commission will continue to closely monitor the application of the directive in member states, including follow-up/analysis of relevant case law, administrative decisions and complaints from citizens and business. A second report on the application of the directive is due to be undertaken in 2005.