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24th Sep 2017

Commission to publish guidelines on Uber-like activities

  • "We have to allow new business models to appear in Europe," Katainen (l) and Bienkowska (r) said. (Photo: Thierry Monasse)

The European Commission will publish guidelines next year on how the EU should deal with the so-called sharing economy sector, exemplified by online platforms such as Uber or Airbnb, it said on Wednesday (28 October).

The move is part of a larger Single Market roadmap presented by the Commission's vice-president for growth and jobs Jyrki Katainen and industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska.

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  • The Commission will push for harmonisation on regulated professions, like hairdressers. (Photo: wikipedia)

The road map will also include more powers to guarantee consumers' protection, a streamlining of procedures for service providers who want to operate in other EU countries, a simplified VAT regulation and a review of regulated professions in Europe.

"Many areas in our market have changed," Katainen said, adding that "challenges from outside of Europe have not been addressed" by the Commission.

"We have to create new opportunities in the internal market," he said.

'It will grow'

Among these challenges, the emergence of new players like the taxi service Uber or the accommodation platform Airbnb have caused unrest in several countries.

"It is a relatively new phenomenon," Katainen acknowledged.

"In various member states, there tends to be a basic instinct to kill new business models in favour of traditional ways to do things, which is not necessarily always good."

"We have to look at constructive ways to fill the regulatory gap and at the same time allow new business models to appear in Europe."

In 2016, the Commission will therefore publish guidelines to tell member states how EU law can apply to these new business.

The guidelines will come out of a review of existing EU laws like the services directive, the e-commerce directive or the unfair contract terms directive.

"These companies have to pay taxes, and the consumer and health protection must be fulfilled," Bienkowska said.

The commissioners did not, however, sound hostile to the Uber-like businesses.

"Whether we want it or not, it will grow," Bienkowska said. "We cannot stop this way of doing business. We just have to have common European rules."

"It would be sad if Europe was [the] only continent to deny new business models," Katainen said.

With its roadmap on Single Market, the Commission wants to support the Juncker investment plan as well as the energy and capital market unions and the digital single market.

"Once we have implemented all this, Europe will be a totally different continent: more competitive, more growth-friendly and it will create new innovations to create more jobs," Katainen promised.

Services

The commissioners insisted on the need to implement and enforce existing rules. But they announced new initiatives next year.

The EU executive will develop a "services passport", allowing service providers to file only in the first EU country where they want to work. But it will not reopen the services directive.

To help labour mobility, the Commission will also push member states to harmonise the 5,000 regulated professions in the EU - some of which are only regulated in one country.

Unveiled a few days before British prime minister David Cameron outlines UK demands for EU reforms, the roadmap was welcomed by the UK's business minister.

"We have been calling for the EU to open up the single market and it’s encouraging to see this ambitious package that will bring real benefits for working people as well as new opportunities for British businesses,"Lucy Neville-Rolfe said.

"The UK government has led the way in pushing for these reforms and will continue to press for further action, as more needs to be done to get the EU backing innovative businesses," she said, referring to the Commission's position on sharing economy.

In a press release, the Liberal ALDE party "welcomed' the Commission's plans but said that "much more must be done to open up the single market, in particular to help SMEs and digital start-ups."

"It will be successful only if it promotes real new opportunities and further enhances cross-border activities," ALDE said.

Reacting to plans to simplify EU VAT regulation, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) said that "reducing complexity of VAT regulations for small companies’ cross-border operations is a laudable aim" but that "it rarely turns out to be the case that small businesses are given adequate consideration."

Opinion

It's time to ditch EU anti-Uber business rules

Should Uber drivers be licensed in the same way as taxi drivers? A case at the EU court of justice should be an opportunity to make innovation and entrepreneurship easier.

EU takes time to ponder tech giant tax

The EU commission published a paper that outlined several options on how to increase tax income from internet companies' activities, but fell short of proposing legislation.

Investigation

EU bank accused of muzzling watchdog

An ongoing review of the the European Investment Bank's "complaints mechanism" could make the oversight branch less independent and less effective.

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