EU Court Adviser Buoys Prosecution of Uber in France

(CN) – In a blow to Uber’s expansion abroad, an adviser to the EU’s highest court said France did not need to notify the European Commission about its new law criminalizing ride-share services.

The law in question makes it a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a $340,000 fine for a company to connect customers with nonprofessional private drivers.

In Lille, a city in northern France, a private citizen named Nabil Bensalem invoked the legislation to prosecute Uber France over its services, known in the country as UberPop.

Trying to cut the case off at the head, Uber argued France’s scheme was adopted in contravention of a directive of EU law that requires member states to notify the European Commission immediately of “any draft technical regulation.”

The regional court stayed Uber’s prosecution in Lille pending clarification from Europe’s highest court about whether the EU directive at issue, Directive 98/34, applies.

Though the European Court of Justice has yet to rule on the mater, one of its advocate generals sketched out defeat for Uber in a recommendation published Tuesday.

Translated from French, the opinion hinges on Advocate General Maciej Szpunar’s determination that France’s law  does not constitute a technical regulation.

While the provision does affect information-society services, Szpunar found this incidental.

“If every national provision that prohibited or punished intermediation in illegal activities had to be regarded as a technical regulation merely because the intermediation most likely takes place by electronic means, then a great number of internal rules in the member states, written and unwritten, would have to be notified as technical regulations,” the opinion states. “That would lead to an unwarranted extension of the obligation to notify, without that really contributing to the attainment of the objectives of the notification procedure, the purpose of which is to prevent the adoption by the member states of measures that are incompatible with the internal market and to enable economic operators to make more of the advantages inherent in the internal market. Instead of that, an excessive notification obligation, with the penalty of regulations that have not been notified being inapplicable, would facilitate circumvention of the law and engender legal uncertainty, including in relationships between individuals.”

Szpunar emphasized that France’s law aims “solely to prohibit and to punish the activity of intermediary in the illegal exercise of transport activities.”

“The activity of intermediary in legal transport services remains entirely outside the scope of the provision,” the opinion states.

Szpunar added that “the purpose of the provision is not to regulate such services specifically, but to ensure the effectiveness of the rules relating to transport services, which are not covered by Directive 98/34, as amended.”

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