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Guide to online business in Europe

Whether you are setting up an online business, or planning to take your business online into Europe, you will not be able to target European customers without understanding EU law as applied in each country you are targeting.

As noted in our previous bulletin on e-commerce businesses after Brexit, from 1 January 2021 any UK providers of online goods and services to consumers and business customers in the EEA jurisdictions must comply with local laws.

Historically, the E-Commerce Directive allowed that if an online business complies with the laws of the EEA country in which it is established, it is allowed to operate its e-commerce business in all other EEA countries. This protection for UK online businesses has now ended with the UK’s departure from the EEA zone as a result of Brexit.

What does this mean to you?

The compliance requirement applies to you if you are:

  • established in the UK; and
  • providing or will provide your customers in the EEA with goods or services by electronic means. Examples include the sale of goods via an online marketplace, provision of services which can be bought online, content generation or social media platforms.

You must ensure compliance with local laws of every EEA country where you provide online goods and services. This means if you have customers based in, for instance, Germany and France you must comply with both German and French laws.  

If you operate in regulated sectors such as financial services you may be required to obtain prior authorisation.

What do you have to do?

You should:

  • review your website to make sure that its content and format meets local law requirements e.g. information about pricing, refund, term and termination, or complaints;
  • review your online terms and conditions and customer contract terms. These terms may need to be amended to meet local law requirements for things such as contract formalities, liability and remedies regimes, or dispute resolution; and
  • seek legal advice on any additional legal requirements and keep track of any legal updates applicable to e-commerce businesses.

Given the substantial impact on online trade, we can assist you in planning and implementing an appropriate approach to meet this new requirement. With our large network of trusted law firms across Europe, we can manage multijurisdictional assignments on your behalf working alongside other local jurisdiction lawyers  to identify and address mandatory legal obligations in the relevant jurisdictions and to provide you with necessary legal guidance.

If you have any questions about this change, please contact Andy Braithwaite.

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