The battle between Uber and taxi drivers in Europe is ramping up as they pull up at the European court on Tuesday over a rather existential question: what exactly is Uber?
The first hearing in what is expected to be a landmark case that will decide its fate in key European markets will take place in the European Courts of Justice to mull over whether the multi-billion dollar startup is a transport company or a digital platform.
Deciding on exactly which it is – or combination of the two – will mean regulators can be clear about which rules apply to its operations, and will also have potential implications on the operations of other so-called sharing economy operators.
The case has been brought by a group representing taxi drivers in Spain, where Uber has faced a ban from authorities over some of its services. This kind of crackdown has been repeated in France, Germany, Belgium and other countries in the region in recent years.
The cabbies group argues that Uber operates as a transport company and should be subject to the rules of the industry, such as licensing. Each member country has a greater freedom on setting rules on transport.
However, Uber argues that it is a digital service, and would be subject to union-wide directives on information sharing.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to provide our views to the Court of Justice of the European Union. This case should show that European laws fully support the development of a Digital Single Market," said an Uber spokesperson.
It's just one of the many legal hurdles Uber and other operators of new digital platforms are facing around the world, pushing the boundaries of regulation with innovative new ways of operating thanks to technology.
Uber is appealing a ruling in the UK that found two Uber drivers should be considered workers and are not self-employed. It is also taking a fight against Transport for London to judicial review.
Both cases in the UK are not expected to be heard until next year, while a final ruling on the European case is also not expected until 2017.