Politicians should stop the ‘uberisation’ of European politics – Vicky Cann
The Uber Files contain a chilling reference to a European NGO. One of his militants answers.
Large companies are afraid of the observatory of the Brussels lobby Corporate Europe Observatory. This is one of many revelations from Uber Files, a leak of more than 120,000 internal Uber documents to the Guardian newspaper reported by journalists around the world.
From documents showing how Uber “broke the law, fooled police and regulators, and secretly lobbied governments around the world,” The world reported internal Uber exchanges of 2015 which discuss the “risk that an NGO, such as the Observatory of Business Europe” investigates and exposes its lobbying and its solicitation of a high-level European commissioner to join the company.
They are right to be afraid. From our investigations in Brussels’ revolving door problem to our expose growth and firepower Big Tech lobbying with LobbyControl and our campaign with DitchIl Free Policy To get the big oil and gas companies out of EU decision-making, we and our partners across Europe are standing up against corporate power.
In the light of the Uber files, the Members of the European Parliament have urged a full investigation into the now infamous revolving door case of former digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes. We agree, and together with the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation, we request that Uber be suspended from the EU Lobby Transparency Register.
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Some have suggested that the Uber Files contain nothing really new and do not represent the way things usually happen in the Brussels bubble. Uber’s Own reaction was to renounce its past misdeeds, to suggest that it was “a different company today” (from the 2013-2017 period to which the files relate) and to ask the public to “judge us on what we have done in the last five years and what we will do in the years to come”.
Yet, little has really changed. EU leaders and corporate interests, including the likes of Uber, retain a broad shared political agenda—that of the “completion of the single market” launched in 1993 and allowing the free movement of goods and services between EU Member States. Too many European politicians are convinced that this is the cornerstone of the union, bringing wealth and prosperity to all. The single market allows business interests to present many of their self-serving political demands as removing ‘regulatory barriers‘ or to prevent new ones.
In 2019, Corporate Europe Observatory and AK Europa published a alarming investigation in Uber, Airbnb and other players in the “gig” economy. It showed how the single market mania played into their hands as they battled with national and local governments to try to skip regulation.
Because of the way Uber, Deliveroo, Airbnb and other similar companies operate, they can privatize profits while socializing risks. Typically, they have no assets (taxis, restaurants, or hotels) and can therefore avoid related safety, consumer, and other regulations. And since they typically classy their workers as “self-employed”, they can avoid obligations such as the minimum wage or social insurance contributions.
So far, the EU institutions have tended to see these platforms bathed in the halo of “growth and innovation”, benefiting from mutual efforts to remove barriers to the single market. This partly explains the extraordinary response French President Emmanuel Macron – he would “do it again tomorrow” – after he was heavily criticized for brokering a controversial deal for Uber while he was economy minister.
But after last week, the shine has surely detached itself from the halo of the gig economy. The EU is debating a proposal to grant new rights to platform workers and Uber and others have been active lobbying above. Millions of EU workers — up to 10% —could be affectedit is therefore essential to get it right.
Following the Uber cases, the European Trade Union Confederation has CaliforniaIdirected for the proposal to be put on hold until an investigation into Uber’s activities is complete, fearing its fingerprints could already be seen in the emerging response from the European Parliament. Nevertheless, BusinessEurope, the European Roundtable of Industrialists and other powerful business lobby groups in Brussels continue to defend single market and require its urgent completion.
Rethinking corporate power
In the wake of the Uber Files, some also suggest that lobbying is harmless as long as a little bit of transparency is provided. And of course, transparency is hugely important: the cast of Uber Files real doubt whether the commission provided us with full answers when we asked about the revolving door movement of Uber and Kroes.
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Freedom of information and transparency in lobbying are essential components of a democracy. But, in themselves, they are not enough.
We need to rethink corporate power and the the influence he exerts on our public discourse and grassroots policy making. Sometimes this extends to corporate capture of whole swathes of EU decision-making, at the expense of people and the planet.
There are many ways to curb corporate political influence: firewalls in lobbies, strict rules on conflicts of interest, and bans on corporate donations to political parties, to name just three. . We must take their implementation seriously and break the spell of Uber and neoliberal dogma on those who wield political and executive power.