Sunday

22nd Jul 2018

Magazine

Sharing economy: Lobbyists educate EU officials

  • EU commissioner for research and innovation Carlos Moedas (r) meeting with Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber. (Photo: European Commission)

The lobbying power of companies that count themselves among the sharing economy is still relatively small, but growing rapidly.

Take Uber, famous for its ride-sharing app. In 2015, the latest year for which it provided information to the EU's transparency register, Uber spent between €400,000 and €499,999 (companies are not required to give a specific figure) on lobbying activities in Brussels.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

  • EU commissioner for the digital single market Andrus Ansip (l) meets Frederic Mazzella, the founder and CEO of BlaBlaCar. (Photo: European Commission)

Uber's EU lobbying budget is comparably tiny to that of Google, for example, which spent over €4 billion in that same year. What is striking, however, is the budget's growth.

In 2014, its expenditures amounted to between €50,000 and €99,999. This means that in the course of a single year, Uber's lobbying war chest has quadrupled at the very least. It may have even increased tenfold, if taking into account the minimum amount for 2014 versus the maximum amount for 2015.

It is also impressive to note that since Jean-Claude Juncker became head of the European Commission in November 2014, Uber representatives have met with commissioners, their cabinet members, or the highest civil servant in the directorates-general fifty times.

That is only eight meetings fewer than Facebook, which spends at least twice as much on lobbying in Brussels.

Airbnb, the other best-known member of the sharing economy, spent between €100,000 and €199,999 in 2016, up from between €50,000 and €99,999 in 2015. It met with high-level commission staff twelve times. However, its number of declared lobbyists dropped from six to two.

European Collaborative Economy Forum

The changes could be due to the birth of the European Collaborative Economy Forum, with a lobbying budget of between €25,000 and €49,999. It is a business association that aims to "help innovative tech companies find a voice to policymakers", according to the organisation's CEO, Luc Delany.

Delany told EUobserver in an interview that he left Facebook four years ago to set up his own consultancy firm. Speaking to former colleagues and friends in the app business, he felt there was a need for a platform to "get the discussion going in Brussels" on the sharing economy.

The forum chose the name European Collaborative Economy Forum instead of European Sharing Economy Forum, because the European Commission has adopted that phrase.

"We decided that, since our audience was Brussels, we would have liked to reflect the language that Brussels was using," said Delany, accepting that sharing economy was "more common parlance".

"We started off with the European Collaborative Economy Forum [in 2015] as a place for discussion between members, with policymakers, to discuss the current and future policy landscape. So no lobbying, no position papers, no agreed views, it was actually all about, well, how do we amongst us consider the collaborative economy," he said.

Uber and Airbnb are among its founding members, but the association also has in its ranks companies that offer access to boats (Boataffair), shared office space (Seats2Meet), and car-sharing (SnappCar).

This year, the association will move into "a little bit more of an advocacy role", said Delany.

He added that the forum has been speaking to members of the European Parliament about the first version of a non-binding report about the collaborative economy, drafted by centre-left Italian MEP Nicola Danti. Danti did not respond to a request for an interview.

No Wild West guys

Delany also saw a task in "educating" policymakers, because there were "some common misconceptions" about the collaborative economy.

"These guys are accused of being in the Wild West and flouting laws and regulations, that kind of thing, but the reality is that the general construct of business regulation applies to sharing or collaborative economy companies as much as it does to anybody else," Delany said.

"We are already part of economy. The laws that apply there still apply," he added. "We just have to look at: how do we re-interpret and consider these companies now that the scale of this operation has changed and it's become a competitor to traditional services."

Several companies that see themselves as part of the collaborative economy have gone to court to challenge local bans.

"We're not calling for new regulation to particularly suit the collaborative economy," said Delany. "What we are asking for is existing European legislation to be applied correctly," he noted, adding that some local laws that were adopted in response to the sharing economy were protectionist, and created "unnatural barriers" to enter the market.

The solution

Delany also opposed the idea that sharing economy companies are responsible for a trend towards more self-employment.

"The problems about a shifting European work force, potential contributions to social security, those concerning issues, are actually part of a very large across-the-whole-economy shift, not specific to the collaborative economy," he argued.

Instead, driving for Uber or renting out a room through Airbnb can help people make some extra money, the lobbyist noted. "We see the collaborative economy as a solution for many people who are underworked, out of work. It's a way back into the work force."

Delany said that over the past few years, he has seen EU policymakers becoming less concerned and more open to the sharing economy. "I think they have changed their views from being somewhat sceptical and mistrusting, to being welcoming and optimistic in general."

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2017 Business in Europe Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of our Business in Europe magazine.

Magazine

The 'sharing economy' lacks a common definition

The sharing economy is a noticeable trend shaking up traditional sectors, but the phenomenon is ill-defined and empirical evidence about its impact is scarce.

Digital currency, the Airbnb and Uber killer

The digital currency Ethereum allows people to run so-called smart contracts, potentially creating a decentralised sharing economy, and could be the beginning of the end for firms like Uber and Airbnb.

Magazine

Share you in court

Regulatory systems were not ready for the sharing economy, and now the battle has moved from the streets to the halls of justice.

Magazine

The Business of Nature

The third edition of EUobserver's Business magazine looks at the bioeconomy – the parts of the economy that use renewable biological resources.

Magazine

The Business of Nature

The third edition of EUobserver's Business magazine looks at the bioeconomy – the parts of the economy that use renewable biological resources.

News in Brief

  1. Libyan PM rejects EU migrant camps idea
  2. Italy's Salvini to sue critical anti-mafia writer
  3. EU countries send aircraft to Sweden to help with wildfires
  4. British ex-commissioner's jobs called into question
  5. May to tell EU to drop Irish border 'backstop' idea
  6. Trump threatens EU over Google fine
  7. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  8. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us