Taxi drivers

Taxi Drivers Block Brussels, Ask EU to Investigate Uber Files Revelations

Hundreds of taxis blocked the streets of Brussels, honking their horns as they circled around a roundabout straddling European Union buildings, as part of a protest by taxi drivers from across Europe Europe demanding that the European Commission launch an official investigation into whether politicians were unduly influenced by the United States. ride-sharing giant Uber.

Dressed in union T-shirts and waving the flags of several European countries, the demonstrators called on the European Union to investigate the revelations of world leaders intervening on behalf of the company contained in the Uber Files, an investigation into the machine of Uber’s global lobbying published in July by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and dozens of media partners.

The drivers, representing taxi unions and trade groups from nearly 20 countries, also demanded meetings with key EU commissioners, including the body’s president, and insisted that the commission reverse the policy guidelines that , they say, would deregulate the mainland’s taxi industry to favor transport app-based services. like Uber.

“We absolutely disagree with this,” Younes Zerrad, president of Elite Taxis, a European organization representing taxi drivers, told an ICIJ partner. Thing. “Not only were we not consulted on this, but we would also like to know who initiated this recommendation. We want clarity on this.

The committee told the ICIJ that the guidelines are not a piece of legislation but clarify how member states can regulate taxis and rig-based transport services.

The Uber files were based on a trove of 124,000 emails, text messages, strategy memos and other documents leaked by Uber’s former chief EU lobbyist to The Guardian and shared with the ICIJ and more than 40 other partners media around the world. The files revealed how Uber, between 2014 and 2016, forged its way into new European markets, often in defiance of local laws, regularly deployed technological tools to thwart law enforcement investigations, forged relationships with and pressured key politicians, and exploited violence against its drivers to lobby for favorable regulation.

As one executive admitted in a leaked email in 2014, “We’re just fucking illegal.”

Uber files have revealed that former European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes contacted Dutch politicians in a bid to stop raids on Uber’s offices and investigations into Amsterdam operations. The project also showed how then-French economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who is currently serving his second term as president, quietly aided Uber’s lobbying efforts in France.

After publication, former Uber lobbyist Mark MacGann came forward as the source documents.

Uber’s disruptive entry into the European market in the mid-2010s enraged taxi drivers, who complained about the multinational company’s failure to comply with transport laws. Uber argued that it was simply a platform that connects drivers and passengers, not a transportation service, and therefore not covered by strict regulations governing the taxi industry.

Taxi drivers reject the argument.

“It was just a taxi service not respecting the laws – that’s all,” Sam Bouchal, spokesperson for the Brussels Taxi Federation, told ICIJ in an interview. Bouchal later tweeted that he had been arrested at the demonstration today.

The Uber Files revelations have since rocked Europe, immediately sparking protests by taxi drivers in Italy, France and the UK, as well as calls for investigations into authorities whose dealings with Uber were detailed in records, and demands in several countries to reform lobbying regulations. .

Thursday’s protest in Brussels represented an escalation in calls by taxi unions for governments to investigate Uber’s lobbying of political leaders.

“For me, Uber is not an economic project; it is a political project,” Bouchal said. “Their objective is to destroy social rights.”

Bouchal said protesters want the European government to look into Uber’s relationship with senior political leaders. “We want administrative, parliamentary and judicial inquiries to be carried out both at European level and in the member states of the European Union,” he said.

Starting from Brussels’ main train station in the north of the city, protesters marched with signs reading “Don’t let Uber rule the roost”, stopping at the office of Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President of the Brussels Region- Capital city. . The march ended at the headquarters of the European Commission.

A commission official told the ICIJ that members of the cabinet of transport commissioner Adina Valean and employment and social rights commissioner Nicolas Schmit Cabinets were planning to meet representatives of taxi unions today.

Belgian drivers denounce a minister’s relationship with Uber

Following the publication of the Uber records, Belgian taxi drivers raised concerns about Uber’s relationship with then-Mobility Minister Pascal Smet, who ushered in Europe’s first legal framework regulating Uber.

Report from ICIJ’s media partners The evening, Thing and From Tijd revealed how whistleblower and chief lobbyist MacGann and Smet were friends. In one instance, MacGann invited Smet and another Uber executive to a private charity gala “so they could privately discuss our business model and how we can help them achieve their goal of more transportation.” smart in Brussels”.

The Uber Files also show how Smet publicly penalized Uber but, privately, was a friend of the company. In leaked emails, MacGann told other executives that Smet was “an ally but in public statements he needs to reassure Taxi,” explaining Smet’s recent moves to tighten regulations on Uber. “That’s why he reintroduced enforcement although there are only security and insurance checks, and at worst, fines.”

Asked about his conversations with MacGann, Smet told Knack: “I have been very clear with him in every conversation: Uber only has a future in Brussels within a framework defined by the government, respecting the statute of the driver, transparency for the customer. and transmission of data to the government.

Zerrad said he was troubled by the relationships Uber may have had with Smet and other high-profile politicians.

“To see officials favoring a company that enters the market in this way…it’s most shocking,” he said.

The Brussels protest comes as governments and political parties have sought to respond to the Uber Files revelations. Coinciding with today’s protest was a forum on ‘alternatives to uberisation’ organized by The Left, a political group in the European Parliament.

The European Commission “evaluates” the involvement of Kroes

In July, the European Commission said he would “seek clarification” de Kroes regarding his work with Uber.

The commission said it sent a letter to Kroes on July 12 and has since responded. The commission told the ICIJ today that it was assessing the matter but gave no further details. The body added that it already had strict revolving door rules, which were tightened in 2018 to extend the cooling-off period, during which outgoing officials are prohibited from pressuring former colleagues after leaving office. 18 months to two years.

Today in Brussels, protesters held up signs reading ‘EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes secretly lobbied for Uber’.

Benefits for Uber

Uber told ICIJ it recognizes its past mistakes and has been transformed under new management. The company also says it is now trying to find common ground with taxis.

“We have moved from an era of confrontation to an era of collaboration, demonstrating a willingness to come to the table and find common ground with former opponents, including unions and taxi companies,” he said. Uber spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said in July.

In an effort to calm things down in Brussels, Uber integrated taxis into its app in August, much to the annoyance of some taxi drivers.

“If they want to entice us with tempting bonuses, none of us will work with them,” Zerrad told ICIJ, adding that Uber avoids the costs and liabilities that taxis have to bear under the law. law.

“We work 10 to 12 hours a day. I’ve been out since 7 a.m. and I’m coming home around 7 p.m., ”he said. “We have costs, responsibilities. Our cars are inspected twice a year. They must be exchanged after a few years, while Uber drivers have a rented Mercedes. They do it as a complementary activity to their main job. It’s different for us.

Bouchal said today’s protest is not just about taxis.

“Our fight is not a corporate fight,” Bouchal said. “Uberisation – it is a political project – will apply to all sectors of activity and will affect the social rights of all workers.”

Meanwhile, Uber faces multiple legal threats, including a class action lawsuit alleging the company has not been forthright with its shareholders about past misconduct, including wrongdoing exposed in Uber filings that caused stock prices to fall by 5%.

Delphine Reuter and Kristof Clerix contributed reporting.