The European Commission proposed a review of the rules designed to protect consumers buying goods and services on the internet, dismissing the current rules as ineffective.
It opened a three-month public consultation period on Thursday, calling for views from consumer groups and retailers.
Only a fraction — 6 per cent — of EU consumers currently shop online across borders. While this is largely due to language differences, the Commission believes the lack of a coherent set of rules for online transactions is also to blame, it said in a statement.
The Commission aims to boost consumer confidence in the EU market, with a single and simple set of rules that empower consumers to know their rights, make sound choices and ensure adequate protection when things go wrong, it said.
"There is an urgent need for action, the world is moving so fast and Europe risks lagging behind," said Meglena Kuneva, the new commissioner for consumer affairs.
"We need a root-and-branch review of consumer rules. At the moment, consumers are not getting a fair deal online, and complex rules are holding back the next generation of bright business ideas.
The Commission has highlighted 28 areas that need attention. They include strengthening the protection given to consumers and increasing clarity surrounding their rights on late delivery, no delivery and partial delivery of goods.
The Commission — the Union's executive body charged with proposing new legislation — also wants to clarify rules on how to return products. "The current EU wide standards differ greatly from notifying the seller by email to an obligation to use registered mail," it said.
The Commission's green paper asks whether current guarantees and rights that cover products should be extended to certain online services, and it wants consumer protection on the internet to better mirror the protection buyers have when they purchase goods through traditional retail channels.
"The Consumer who buys a CD from a shop has a guarantee if it does not work. A consumer who downloads music from the internet does not enjoy that protection," the Commission said.
It also wants to clarify the rights of buyers of second-hand goods sold at public auctions. Those rights exist in the European sales directive but Commissioner Kuneva doesn't feel the directive is sufficient.