A senior EU lawyer has said individual member states should be able to ban ride-hailing service Uber because it is an ordinary transport company and not a service provider. Uber played down the comments.
Maciej Szpunar - an advocate general with the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice - on Tuesday said EU member states can ban the ride-hailing pioneer Uber without informing the European Commission because at its core Uber is an ordinary transport company under their individual jurisdictions.
Uber's problems are piling up globally; despite the fact that the company, which is based in San Francisco, insists it is a service, not a transport provider.
The lawyer also said that France was entitled to charge local managers of the American ride-hailing app firm with running an illegal taxi service.
Uber played down the non-binding opinion, saying it applied only to a service using unlicensed drivers known as UberPOP which it had already discontinued in France.
Judges will make a final ruling later this year. However, they generally follow the advice of their advocates general and the comments come two months after another opinion, which rejected the company's argument that it was only a digital platform and therefore subject to less regulation than a transport firm.
Up in arms in France
These European court battles are being fought as Uber struggles with last month's departure of its co-founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick following a string of scandals that have battered one of the global stars of the US tech industry.
The company connects riders directly with freelance drivers and much more cheaply than traditional cab companies. But critics and competitors say this allows it to dodge costly regulations.
The latest case before the ECJ was referred to it by a French court in Lille and concerns a 2014 French law on taxis and chauffeur services which makes it a criminal offence to organize illegal taxi services and sets restrictions on the use of software connecting such drivers and passengers.
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 under which limitations on digital services in the bloc require prior approval from Brussels.
Last year Uber was fined 800,000 euros ($908,000) and two of its executives were also fined for running an illegal taxi service.
"We have seen today's statement and await the final ruling later this year," an Uber spokesperson said.
Nonetheless, Uber said it now only operates in France with licensed cab drivers, as it does in many of its main European markets.
tr/jbh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)