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EU calls for a softer approach to Uber and Airbnb

European Commission says bans on sharing economy services should be seen as a 'last resort,' in guidelines aimed at harmonizing regulation

The European Union is warning member states against banning services like Uber and Airbnb, under guidelines aimed at harmonizing regulation of the so-called "sharing economy." In a draft of the guidelines obtained by Reuters and The Financial Times, the European Commission says outright bans on the services should only be used as a "measure of last resort," suggesting that governments instead implement more moderate restrictions.

The goal is to establish a general framework for how to regulate companies like Airbnb and Uber, which have so far been forced to navigate different regulations across 28 EU member states. Uber has faced partial bans in France, Germany, and Belgium, while Airbnb has faced criticism in some cities for its effect on housing prices.

A more open approach to regulation

This year, authorities in Berlin said that residents who rent out their entire apartment on Airbnb would face a fine of up to €100,000. In its draft guidelines, the European Commission said such measures are "generally difficult to justify," suggesting that governments adopt lighter regulations, such as limits on the number of days a person could rent their apartment on the site.

"Total bans of an activity constitute a measure of last resort that should be applied only if and where no less restrictive requirements to attain a public interest can be used," the draft reads, according to Reuters.

Sharing companies would likely welcome the guidelines, and the softer, more open approach they recommend, though there are parts that may be contested. The Commission says that operators should be considered employees if they aren't allowed to set their own prices or if they are forced to take customers. That would likely be opposed by Uber, which has long argued that its drivers are independent contractors, thereby lifting the company's obligation to provide insurance or other benefits.

Companies operating in the sharing economy "can fall within several sectors, falling under the regulatory burden of all of them," the Commission said. The guidelines are to be officially announced on Thursday.