Popping the Euro-Corks Over ‘Unfair Competition’

All that bottled-up Old World indignation really popped a cork in mid-December when VC Watch wrote about the Internet Griping in European Whine Country.

“I am sick of putting up with this American hegemony online,” wrote a correspondent from Paris who would not allow his letter to be attributed. “After all, we were using the Minitel when Americans still had to look numbers up in paper phone books.”

And as we said in that column, the Minitel might be the ultimate poster child for the concept that being first mover doesn’t guarantee success.

The letters from offended Europeans from Dusseldorf, Brussels, Stavanger and Bonn echoed, for the most part, the Parisian sentiments that somehow Americans were at fault for the problems holding back full European participation in the online world. It’s so unfair, they insist.

Yep, here we are again, ugly Americans who don’t fight fair. You know what?

They’re right.

We don’t fight fair and herewith are three horrendous examples of our terrible e-aggression and positively Serbian-like brutality that have enslaved the poor e-uropeans.

Imagine the gall of catalog and e-tailer Land’s End for offering the citizens of Germany the same no-questions, money-back guarantee on its products that it offers to the rest of the world.

UNFAIR! cried the retailers of Germany who went to court to ban the offer as an unfair advertising claim. The German Supreme Court agreed and in late September last year protected the poor German consumer from the predatory offer. The German Supreme Court ruled that the offer was “economically unfeasible” and amounted to unfair competition.

Whew! That was a close one for the poor Germans who had previously gone to court to ban lifetime guarantees for Tupperware and Zippo lighters. You’d think people who can make a Mercedes would feel capable of competing in burpable plastic bowls, rain parkas and things that ignite various cancer-causing products.

Land’s End, though, is having fun with the Germans: in the United Kingdom, they are running ads touting: “A guarantee so good the Germans banned it.”


And would you look at the nerve of Belgian-based book and music e-tailerProxis which is obviously collaborating with the American e-occupation forces, offering discounts — discounts! — on books. Discounts on books, you see, are illegal in Germany, France and The Netherlands. Absolutely traitorous.

Then take Agence France Press, the French Associated Press wannabe governed by a 13-member quasi-governmental board: eight from media companies, three from the French government and two from the AFP staff. AFP wants the online success now being experienced by AP and Reuters, but its bylaws prevent it from accepting private money. All attempts to change that have been opposed by its unionized staff who threaten to strike if the bylaws are revised.

Unfair! Maybe after Reuters and AP finish eating AFP’s lunch (accompanied, no doubt by an amusing little Rhone red and the usual lack of service) all those AFP staffers can write classified ads for all those 300-baud Minitels.

The roster of unfair competitive acts is long but gets as boring as the Euro-whines themselves. But it’s small wonder that while Forrester Research estimates that Americans spent $4 billion online during this past holiday season alone, Europeans spent about $718 million the whole year.

Europe is a quaint place to visit because it offers many Americans a chance to view where they came from and what things were like. But unfortunately, European online operations are still a study in the past. That’s where they’re likely to stay unless they also decide to fight unfair.

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