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EU court to classify Uber: taxi or information company?

  • Uber says “established companies” are using the current rules to "protect themselves from new and innovative services like Uber" (Photo: Lucía Ponce)

A Spanish judge has asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to determine what kind of company Uber is, and if Spain was allowed to ban its app UberPop.

The referral to the European court was announced Monday (20 July) by Mark MacGann, head of public policy at Uber, in an online press conference.

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The EU's highest court will determine if Uber provides “a mere transport activity, or an electronic intermediation or information society service”.

The court will rule “whether the restriction that Spain is imposing on Uber, which is incorporated as company in the Netherlands … [is] allowed; if the Uber service is able to benefit from the principle of the freedom to provide services” as guaranteed in EU law.

Uber has been struggling with local and national authorities in Europe. A European ruling in their favour could change its fortune in the bloc.

Its service UberPop, which allows drivers without a taxi license to sell rides, has been banned in several EU member states. Most judges have in essence argued that UberPop is providing a taxi service, and that its customers need the same safety guarantees that taxi consumers have.

In some member states, like Spain and France, Uber suspended its app. Two executives of the company will face trial in France at the end of September.

Uber, for its part, says “established companies” are using the EU's “patchwork of rules and regulations … to protect themselves from new and innovative services like Uber to the detriment of European consumers”.

MacGann said Uber “welcomes” the referral to the court, as well as a separate decision by the European Commission to investigate a complaint by Uber against Germany.

Even if the Luxembourg-based court rules Uber is a transport company, MacGann said it may still profit from rules which prohibit unfair and disproportionate limits on companies based in other EU countries (in Uber's case the Netherlands).

“The decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the decisions of the European Commission rarely, if ever, have the effect of closing markets or restricting competition,” noted MacGann.

He said Uber expects a decision by autumn 2016.

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