Friday, 13 February 2015

Is the EU helping or hindering digital companies in Europe?

I have been reading with interest the blog by the EU Vice President, Andrus Ansip, whose aim is stated as "Helping our dynamic digital companies to make the best of Europe" and who seems to be in charge of bringing to fruition the EU dream of the Digital Single Market. To be fair, I quite like the idea of a Digital Single Market too, and I should so love to be a part of it but, alas, I cannot be. 

"Why not?" I hear you ask... my reply is, Red Tape.  

Now Mr Ansip...  (a worrying thought: should I call him Mr, or does he have another title?) ... Mr Ansip has stated that he wants to see Red Tape reduced. That's nice, isn't it? Thank you Mr Ansip, I should like less Red Tape too: it's all about letting businesses get on with doing their biz,  without getting tied up in miles (or as we're talking Europe, kilometres) of the pesky stuff.  Anyhow, he said,  "We should help by cutting red tape for entrepreneurs and smaller companies when they are trying to innovate, with easier set-up, registration and cross-border business rules."

Doesn't that sound good?  I'm all in favour of making it easier for smaller businesses like mine to get going, and sell outside the UK.  I'd love to do it. I want to be an entrepreneur. I'm even trying to learn enough words in other European languages to be able to at least communicate in writing with potential buyers, even if I do have to fall back on Google Translate for the tricky bits!

But I have a problem...  and it's that horrid Red Tape! Specifically, it's that the EU's newly introduced (1st Jan 2015)  VAT rules on electronically supplied cross-border sales are unworkable for me. My shopping cart software can't handle the requirements of multiple prices based on finding out where the potential client is. It can't handle the complexities of zones within countries which have variant VAT rates.  It can't handle establishing the evidence of where the potential buyer actually is before they buy!  It's a simple shopping cart using PayPal as its payment handler, I don't see or retain the buyer's financial details, I don't have their address, I shouldn't even need their real name! My buyer expects to come along, give me an email address, make a PayPal payment, download the product and off they go. Simple! 

Not any more it isn't... now my poor potential buyer is faced with the internet equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition (sorry Spain, nothing personal, I love you really!)  My buyer is made to feel s/he is doing something wrong simply by trying to buy something electronically from me!  The sort of questions the cart is supposed to find the answers to are these...
  • Who are you?
  • Where do you live? [evidence]
  • What's the IP address of your computer / laptop / tablet / smartphone? [evidence]
  • What are your bank details? [evidence]
  • What country is your phone SIM from? (if using a mobile phone for a purchase) [evidence]
  • What is the phone number you are connecting to the internet from?  [evidence]
Having to obtain that information is such a worry. Does anyone else see a problem with this?  
  • How about privacy of the buyer? 
  • How about data security? 
  • How about identity theft?
Europe has some pretty strong data protection laws which are meant to protect our privacy, yet here we are, expected to ride the proverbial coach and horses through those laws to charge EU VAT. It seems to me that the EU left hand has no clue what the EU right hand is doing!

Anyhow, back to that Red Tape, which nice Mr Ansip doesn't like and is trying to save me from,  it now seems to be trying to loop itself around my ankles, tie my knees together, then snake itself all round my body and tie my arms to my sides, until it gets to my neck where it is threatening to pull itself into a very tight knot! 

If like me, you feel that the EU's actions seem to be at odds with its intentions, please would you tell that nice Mr Ansip?  His blog accepts comments, I've left mine (it's awaiting moderation) but I have faith that it will appear soon.  The more of us who point out that we have problems the better the chance of getting some help and changes from the EU. Preferably before that Red Tape kills me, and others like me, off completely!  Here's the link to make it easy to comment:

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