Living in the capital of Europe doesn’t just put us right on top of EU policy, but also gives us a clear view on how the collaborative economy clashes with local and national governments. The capital of Europe created laws that affected both Uber and Airbnb. But Brussels is not the only city in Europe to create a legal framework for the shared economy. Berlin, Amsterdam, Rome just to name a few are all creating or have created rules to try to regulate these new enterprises.
The European Commission has also taken a position in the debate, “Absolute bans and quantitative restrictions should only be used as a measure of last resort.” The EU seem inclined to support the Shared Economy, but there isn’t much when it comes to laws. In a document detailing the public consultation on regulations for online platform of the Collaborative Economy, it seemed there was an agreement on the fact that these platforms are important. What a legal framework might be however, didn’t get a consensus.
But a EU-wide legal framework would be advantageous not just for companies such as AirBNB and Uber, but also for young start-ups across Europe. Imagine that every brand of computers (Asus, Hewlett Packard, Dell, Lenovo, …) had their own operating system and their own rules on how to develop software for their systems. Young entrepreneurs would have a harder time developing their product. Instead of putting all their time, effort and money in creating a strong and efficient product, instead, they are wasting it on making it accessible to multiple platforms or have to choose to limit the availability and potential market. The same can be said for legal frameworks. If young start-ups know that the rules for all EU countries are more or less the same, they can implement their idea for one system only, thus removing the need to adjust the platform for each country and/or region.
But… unfortunately it isn’t like this, YET. Now, we at Access2Europe are specialising in EU-policies dealing with the digital age that we’re now firmly in. Both because of the future ahead of us (our lives will become increasingly digital and computerised), as well as in-house knowledge and experience in that field. And while we understand each country’s worry about taxation and the unclear fiscal rules around the shared economy as well as the competition’s frustration that they need to comply with a 100 plus one regulations and their digital counterparts do not, this is an area in which cooperation between EU-member states has immense potential.
We do not take a position in the debate on how this legal platform ought to look. We do however agree with the comment made by the EU Commission that bans and quantitative restrictions should only be used as a last resort. We believe that the Union can create a coherent framework for the collaborative economy so that existing companies such as Uber, Airbnb and BlaBlaCar know the boundaries in which their platform can function. Moreover, young entrepreneurs in that field will be able to create a service, union-wide without having to worry about different local or national laws.
The public consultation by the EU recognized that these new enterprises “ are driving innovation, facilitating social interactions, and are powerful engines of growth.” it would be a missed opportunity if to not give this ‘engine of growth’ the framework it deserves. And the EU has experience with this, it did it for banks, insurance, distributors, transportation companies, the fishing and agriculture industry and so on so forth. Rules and guidelines that allow companies in and outside Europe to function, thrive and prosper with general ease inside our borders. Shared Economy, whether you’re for or against is here to stay, and will become larger and more significant with each year as the job market, food market, distribution market and so on all become digitalised.
And if not for Airbnb, Uber or BlaBlaCar, then for the young creative geniuses that will think of ways for cat lovers to digitally find a way to share cat sitters. As Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen said in The Guardian “the sector could produce Europe’s next unicorn, or start-up company valued at more than $1 billion. Our role is to encourage a regulatory environment that allows new business models to develop while protecting consumers and ensuring fair taxation and employment conditions,” .
So what would we like? First and foremost, for Airbnb, Uber and BlaBlaCar to sit together with the EU. Afterwards, for other stakeholders to join the debate. Now… coincidentally, … we’re pretty good at organising this.