Uber in further setback in EU

Uber Technologies suffered another setback in the EU after an adviser to the European Court of Justice backed a French law that led to sanctions for top managers in the country.

EU nations “may prohibit and punish the illegal exercise of a transport activity such as UberPop without having to notify the” European Commission of the draft law, Maciej Szpunar, an advocate general at the EU Court of Justice, said in a non-binding opinion.

Mr Szpunar rejected Uber’s claims that the rules were invalid because France didn’t notify the EU in advance about the measures, saying in this case such a notification was “unnecessary.”

The legal wrangling adds to the turmoil at Uber, which last month led to the resignation of chief executive Travis Kalanick.

Mr Szpunar already dealt a blow to the company’s fight with authorities in May, saying in a separate case that Uber is more than just an app, and should also be categorised as a transport service, regulated in a similar way to regular taxis.

In the latest case, the EU court is being asked to give guidance on the legality of changes made to a 2014 French law, which Uber says is targeting apps such as UberPop.

The controversial service, no longer offered in the country, let unlicensed drivers use their own car to pick up riders for low fees.

The French court asked whether the nation’s failure to flag the rule changes to the EU, made it invalid. Uber and two executives in 2016 were fined a total of €850,000 by a French criminal court over claims that UberPop broke the law before the company halted the ride-sharing service.

Half the fine was suspended.

In Mr Szpunar’s view, Uber should be considered a transport service. But even if it wasn’t, he still thinks the French law at issue didn’t have to be notified to the EU, because it affects digital services “only in an incidental manner” and “is not directed at regulating” such services specifically, he said.

Uber said the rules were a new “technical regulation” that relates to a digital service and as such, the EU should have been notified. Uber in a statement said it will wait for the final ruling “later this year.”

“This case relates to a French law from 2014 and affects peer-to-peer services which we stopped in 2015,” Uber said, adding the company “today works only with professional licensed drivers in France.”

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