Uber Technologies Inc yesterday suffered a new setback in Europe when an EU court adviser said France was entitled to charge local managers of the US ride-hailing app with running an illegal taxi service.
Uber played down the nonbinding opinion from an advocate general at the Court of Justice of the EU, saying that it applied only to a service using unlicensed drivers known as UberPOP, which it had already discontinued in France.
Judges are to make a final ruling later this year.
However, they generally follow the advice of their advocates general and the comments came two months after another opinion in Spain, which rejected Uber’s argument that it was only a digital platform subject to less regulation than a transport firm.
The European court battles are being fought as Uber struggles with last month’s departure of cofounder and CEO Travis Kalanick following a string of scandals that have battered one of the global stars of the US tech industry.
The latest case was referred by a court in Lille, France, and concerns a 2014 French law on taxis and chauffeured services that makes it a criminal offense to organize illegal taxi services and sets restrictions on the use of software to find customers on the streets.
Uber had argued that it was not a taxi company and that the criminal fines imposed on two of its French managers were not valid, because the French taxi law infringed EU rules stipulating that limitations on digital services in the bloc require prior approval from Brussels.
Advocate General Maciej Szpunar, who also provided the opinion in the Spanish case in May, disagreed and upheld France’s right to prohibit and punish illegal transport activities such as UberPOP without seeking EU approval of its law.
“Member states may prohibit and punish, as a matter of criminal law, the illegal exercise of transport activities in the context of the UberPOP service, without notifying the European Commission of the draft law in advance,” Szpunar said in a statement.
Uber said it now only operates in France with licensed cab drivers, as it does in many of its main European markets.
Uber was last year fined 800,000 euros (US$908,016 at the current exchange rate) and two of its executives were also fined for running an illegal taxi service, UberPOP.
The case is being appealed and an outcome is expected at the end of this year.
Szpunar also said that EU member states remained free to punish illegal transport activities provided by intermediaries such as Uber without asking for Brussels’ approval, regardless of whether Uber was considered a transport or an information service provider.
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