EU states have right to ban Uber: Top lawyer

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

EU mem­ber states can ban ride-hail­ing pi­o­neer Uber with­out in­form­ing the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion be­cause at heart it is an or­di­nary trans­port com­pany un­der their ju­ris­dic­tion, a top EU lawyer said yes­ter­day. San Fran­cisco-based Uber in­sists it is a ser­vice, not a trans­port provider, con­nect­ing rid­ers with free­lance driv­ers di­rectly and much more cheaply than tra­di­tional cab com­pa­nies. But crit­ics and com­peti­tors say this al­lows it to dodge costly reg­u­la­tion and sev­eral coun­tries, led by France, have banned its low-cost UberPop ser­vice as a re­sult. Uber France chal­lenged the ban, say­ing it amounted to reg­u­la­tion of an in­for­ma­tion com­pany which Paris should have first lodged with the Com­mis­sion, the Euro­pean Union’s ad­min­is­tra­tive arm.

How­ever, Ma­ciej Szpunar, an ad­vo­cate gen­eral with the Lux­em­bourg-based Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice, said Uber was in fact an or­di­nary trans­port com­pany and so mem­ber states could go ahead and reg­u­late its ac­tiv­i­ties with­out no­ti­fy­ing the Com­mis­sion in ad­vance. He re­called that in a May 11 opin­ion on a re­lated case con­cern­ing Uber Spain, he had con­cluded that UberPop “does not con­sti­tute an in­for­ma­tion so­ci­ety ser­vice.”

Szpunar also ar­gued that even if the ECJ, the EU’s high­est court, should at some stage de­ter­mine UberPop was in­deed an in­for­ma­tion ser­vice provider, a ban in re­sponse to “the il­le­gal ex­er­cise of a trans­port ac­tiv­ity does not con­sti­tute a tech­ni­cal reg­u­la­tion within the mean­ing of the di­rec­tive.” “No­ti­fi­ca­tion of the draft law to the Com­mis­sion would not be nec­es­sary in that sit­u­a­tion ei­ther,” he said. He ar­gued that mem­ber states only had a duty to no­tify the Com­mis­sion if they took a spe­cific, tar­geted ac­tion against in­for­ma­tion ser­vice providers.

“Rules which af­fect those ser­vices only in an im­plicit or in­ci­den­tal man­ner are ex­cluded from the no­ti­fi­ca­tion obli­ga­tion,” he said. Uber said in re­sponse that it be­lieved Szpunar’s opin­ion was moot be­cause it had changed its busi­ness model in France. “We have seen to­day’s state­ment and await the fi­nal rul­ing later this year,” an Uber spokesper­son said. The ECJ’s ad­vo­cate gen­er­als-its top lawyers-are reg­u­larly called on to pro­vide ini­tial guid­ance to the court which in most in­stances fol­lows their ad­vice in its fi­nal rul­ings. The French au­thor­i­ties banned Uber af­ter vi­o­lent protests by tra­di­tional taxi driv­ers. Uber in turn filed com­plaint with the EU against France and other states, ar­gu­ing that na­tional poli­cies hos­tile to its op­er­a­tions vi­o­late Euro­pean law. — AFP

SAN FRAN­CISCO: Peo­ple make their way into the build­ing that houses the head­quar­ters of Uber. — AP

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