Uber fights back in Europe, files complaints against governments

The ride-hailing company says France, Germany and Spain broke European Union laws by trying to ban its service.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

After being banned, Uber files complaints against Spain, France and Germany. Uber

Uber is going on the offensive in France, Germany and Spain. The ride-hailing company has filed complaints against the three governments claiming their efforts to ban some of its services violated European Union law.

In a statement, Uber said the European Union as a whole should govern its services -- not individual countries.

"This is supposed to be a single market," said Mark McGann, Uber's head of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "What we're finding is that we're getting treated in completely different ways in different countries, and even within individual countries."

Uber's tussle with European countries is the latest in its ongoing fight with countries around the globe as it attempts to expand its ride-hailing service, which lets passengers connect with drivers via a smartphone app. In many countries, the company has set up shop before asking local governments for permission to operate.

That aggressive strategy has helped Uber grow from its beginnings as a small San Francisco startup to a multinational service since its 2009 launch. Uber is now in 295 cities and 55 countries. While it's battled governments, and sometimes its own drivers, in the US and Asia, it's found some of its toughest fights in Europe.

Uber and rivals like Lyft offer apps that help people looking for a ride connect with drivers piloting their own vehicles. And they've ridden that technology to a certain level of financial success. Uber is the second highest valued venture-backed company in the world with a valuation of $41 billion, while Lyft is valued at $2.5 billion.

Uber is currently in 19 of the 28 European Union countries and has plans to expand into seven more by this summer. Uber has clamored with government officials in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands, but it's hit complete roadblocks in France, Germany and Spain. These three countries have had issues with both the way Uber does business and how users and drivers interact through its app.

A Spanish judge ordered Uber to end all operations in the country in December, saying its drivers have no official authorization to operate and are unfairly competing with licensed taxis. France's National Assembly signed a bill into law in September that banned transportation companies' use of GPS systems that alert users of nearby cars for hire -- in effect crippling Uber's service. And a German three-judge panel banned Uber's low-cost service across the country last month.

Uber filed its complaint against Spain on Monday and against France and Germany in January and February, respectively. The company's complaints, which were filed at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, outline its stance on why bans against its service were unlawful. The crux of the Uber's arguments center on its claims that it's not a transportation or taxi service, but rather a technology business.

Uber is "clearly not a transporter but a technologically innovative software business which brings together individuals who wish to use certain transport services offered by private or professional providers," the company wrote in its complaint filed against Spain.

Another central issue for Uber is that individual countries shouldn't be able to institute bans against it because they're all part of the European Union. Under European Union law, each country can control their own transportation policies as long as they treat all transportation providers equally and allow them to offer new services.

"While Uber is 'fully regulated as a licensed company' in Britain," McGann said, "other countries have sought to ban some of its services."