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Summary

The practical impact of the new Geo-blocking Regulation may be summarised as follows:

  • Traders must not discriminate against consumers based on nationality or residence – consumers must be allowed to view offerings and shop like local consumers. Therefore, a Belgian consumer should be able to buy goods and services from a French website on the same terms and conditions as a French consumer.
      
  • Traders are not obliged to change existing delivery areas – traders are not required to ship across the European Union if they would not ordinarily do so – rather, they must ensure that all EU consumers are treated equally. Therefore, if a trader delivers in France, a Belgian consumer must also be able to order delivery to a French address, but the trader need not deliver to a Belgian address if it would not ordinarily do so.
        
  • Traders are not obliged to harmonise EU prices, but price arbitrage becomes more likely – traders need not harmonise prices across the European Union; however, consumers will be able to compare prices in a trader's different country-facing web pages and seek to buy from the cheapest. Therefore, if a Belgian-facing page has cheaper prices than a French-facing page, a French consumer may order from the former. This is particularly true for locally or electronically delivered services (eg, hotel accommodation or consumer relationship management software delivered as a service). However, practical disadvantages may still apply to this cross-border trade, particularly in terms of deliveries. A Belgian entity operating a Belgian-facing site and delivering only to Belgium under its general terms and conditions may still lawfully refuse to deliver to France, even if a French entity operating the French-facing site would be able to do so.
       
  • The regulation goes further than antitrust laws – it does not oust the application of competition law, but applies in parallel. The regulation is notably stricter than competition rules in prohibiting geo-blocking practices, even where the supplier does not have a dominant position and acts unilaterally rather than pursuant to an agreement. However, the commission is aggressively applying competition law in practice to cases where it finds suppliers have unlawfully restricted resellers' online sales.
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