Europe

Uber To EU: We’re “Not A Transport Company”

Uber filed a complaint against Spain with European Union regulators this week, charging that the country violated E.U. laws by banning some of Uber’s services, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday (April 1).

That follows similar Uber complaints against France and Germany in early March. Courts in Spain and Germany have banned some Uber operations, while in France Uber’s drivers are being fined and its Paris offices were raided by police in mid-March.

Uber’s argument: “Uber is not a transport company, we don’t own cars,” said Mark McGann, head of public policy for Uber in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to Bloomberg News. “We don’t employ drivers. What we are is a technology platform.”

But that’s not actually Uber’s primary legal approach to the issue — McGann said it’s a question of unequal treatment in different parts of the E.U. He told The Wall Street Journal that Uber is “fully regulated as a licensed company” in the U.K., but the same services aren’t being allowed in other E.U. member states.

“This is supposed to be a single market,” McGann said. “What we’re finding is that we’re getting treated in completely different ways in different countries, and even within individual countries.” National governments in the E.U. are allowed to handle their own transportation policy, but they’re required to treat providers in a nondiscriminatory way.

Still, McGann’s first argument — that Uber isn’t a transportation company and shouldn’t be regulated as one — will be a central question for the E.U. investigations that are being ramped up. “Uber is a technology, but it is a technology that has an impact on transportation,” European Commission spokesman Jakub Adamowicz said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We’re taking our time to analyze, see and study.”

The European Commission runs the E.U. government on a day-to-day basis, makes sure E.U. treaties are observed and proposes legislation for the European Parliament. But it functions as a cabinet, which means the first question is whether the Uber issue belongs to the transportation commissioner, the competition commissioner or the digital economy commissioner.

The answer appears to be “some of the above,” although E.U. transport commissioner Violeta Bulc has already said she plans to study the taxi and chauffeur-driver car-hire market to “provide the necessary background for the commission to decide on the need for — and possible character of — any further action at E.U. level.”

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