Given the absence of a common regulatory framework for the collaborative economy, Member States, but also regional and local authorities as well as the European Court of Justice, have had to respond to the challenges presented by the collaborative economy on a case-by-case or sector-by-sector basis. This leads to regulatory fragmentation between and within Member States, which leads to legal complexity and additional administrative burden at local and regional level, while hampering the harmonious development of the collaborative economy. The aim of this opinion is therefore to outline a possible overall strategy for the collaborative economy and seek to provide more specific recommendations on internal market-related issues in view of future European Commission initiatives in this field.
This own-initiative opinion aims to influence the EU-level debate in the field of the collaborative economy, and put forward building blocks of a European framework for the collaborative economy. A number of the crucial elements and concerns it highlights are expected to be tackled by the European Commission at the end of 2020 when it will present a proposal for a Digital Services Act (DSA). The impact of the CoR opinion is already evidenced in different ways:
A key development with regards to this file came on 19 December 2019 when the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of short-term rental platform Airbnb, in the case against the French Association for professional housing and tourism (AhTop), representing hotels, travel agencies, and trade unions. The Court decided that the platform only acted as an intermediary, unlike in a previous ruling concerning the other collaborative platform giant: Uber. The CoR opinion demands that EU legislation be updated to clarify the status of platforms. Media coverage of the Court decision was extensive and many articles referred to the CoR opinion and the views of major European cities, including for instance Politico (link) or Le Point (link).
In early 2020, after the adoption of the opinion, the CoR was invited (at administrative level) to take part in the Task Force on the Collaborative Economy set up by the well-known think tank CEPS. This CEPS Task Force brings together various stakeholders to debate how best to move forward in this challenging field, including some suggestions on specific regulatory proposals that could be considered for the Collaborative Economy sector such as the DSA. On 9 June 2020 for the final meeting of the task force, the CoR rapporteur's expert, Klemens Himpele, (Head of the Department for Economy, Labour and Statistics, for the City of Vienna) was invited to give a presentation to task force members. He presented the perspective and concerns of cities, and Vienna in particular, in relation to the collaborative economy including in the field of accommodation and his input was very well received by participants.
The CoR and the rapporteur's city, Vienna, have also been successful in relation to the European Parliament's work in this field. For instance at least a dozen amendments tabled to the legislative initiative report on the DSA by MEP Alex Agius Saliba aim to put forward the views and concerns of local and regional authorities and are clearly influenced by the work of the CoR and Vienna in this field.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
− recalls that in its 2016 opinion on the topic, the Committee found that the Commission's Communication on "A European Agenda for the Collaborative Economy" did not provide comprehensive answers to some of the crucial questions raised by the collaborative economy; believes that this inaction has resulted in leaving highly political decisions up to the courts rather than the European and regional legislators;
− considers that the existing EU regulatory framework – introduced before the age of collaborative economy platforms – is effectively outdated and cannot respond to the challenges posed by the collaborative economy without a thorough update;
− calls on the European Commission to put forward proposals to this end in the course of 2020, in the broader context of the "Digital Services Act" that is on the agenda of the Commission President-elect, especially as the main technical conveniences (e.g. smartphones) and platforms appeared a long time after the e-Commerce Directive of 2000;
− notes the strong local and regional dimension of the collaborative economy, which influences everyday life, since many of the sectors in which these platforms are active, from accommodation, urban transport or delivery services to the use of public spaces, are regulated or taxed at the local and regional level;
− points out that access to data is a crucial issue for public authorities, in particular at local and regional level; ensuring proper enforcement of applicable local rules and safeguarding supervisory mechanisms is impossible without access to the relevant data from platforms operating in a given territory;
− asks the European Commission to produce studies into the possible environmental impact of the collaborative economy by the second half of 2020, as such in-depth studies are lacking.