Director and CEO, German Council on Foreign Relations
Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, European Commission,
Director, Regulation and Institutional and European Affairs, La Poste and Chairman of the PostEurop Management Board,
Head of Department for International Relations / Postal Regulation, Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post and Railway,
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The European Commission’s strategy for the Digital Single Market (DSM) focuses not only on digital goods and services, but also on the broader digital economy. This includes the aim to strengthen e-commerce in physical goods. Parcel delivery is important for e-commerce, but the cost of cross-border delivery within the EU is higher than distance or processing can justify. Why is this, and how can we reach lower prices?
Scott Marcus presented recent work about the opportunities which e-commerce offers Europe and the barriers created by high cross-border parcel delivery costs. Eurostat’s 2015 report indicates how firms perceive high delivery costs to be the most serious barrier to cross-border e-commerce. He claimed that there are parallels with telecommunications network interconnection and that EU-level work on cross-border parcel delivery problems is warranted. Member states should collect data. The Commission should oversee the development of consistent standards and centrally analyse the data. Marcus said there was insufficient evidence to call for major EU intervention like that seen on roaming charges.
Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip stressed that it is a problem that we still have 28 fragmented digital markets. When shopping online, cross-border consumers face many issues related to website access, payment and delivery: only 37% of all those who try will succeed. On 25 May the Commission will launch an e-commerce proposal, and parcel delivery prices are central. Cross-border parcels are about 3-5 times as expensive as in-country delivery, and the difference is difficult to explain. The market for letters is decreasing, but the universal service obligation remains. Postal operators may be trying to cover their losses with their parcel prices.
The Commission will propose an obligation to “sell like at home”, which would increase parcel delivery volumes significantly. The Commission does not want to regulate prices at the European level, but would like to have more transparency by collecting data on prices of 15 different delivery categories in each country. With more transparency, the Commission hopes to improve competition and therefore induce more affordable prices for citizens. Postal services in the European Union are doing well and are very innovative and therefore comparisons to telecoms may be incorrect.
Jean-Paul Forceville explained how the postal sector tries to cater for cross-border e-commerce. Furthermore, he highlighted how parcel delivery and telecommunications are different in terms of value chain, clientele and supply-side issues and cost structure. Therefore, regulating them in similar ways would be counterproductive. However, improved transparency could be beneficial.
Annegret Groebel brought a recent BEREC/ERGP paper to attention, which states that there is a problem which individual national regulators cannot address by themselves. The question is how to remedy this. While roaming and parcels have some parallels, there are also differences. One key difference is that for roaming, all telecom regulators had the power to address this. Not all postal regulators have the power to collect data and a first recommendation would be to empower all regulators to do so. We need transparency, comparable data and in-depth analyses to understand what causes price discrepancies. The aim is to lower barriers for smaller retailers.
Event summary by Nuria Boot, Research Assistant
Presentation | J. Scott Marcus and Georgios Petropoulos