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2017-07-04 04:28:02
Uber Should Be Regulated as Taxi Service, European Legal Adviser Says

LONDON — Uber suffered a blow to its expansion plans in Europe on Tuesday after a senior adviser to the region’s highest court said that the ride-hailing service should have to abide by tough European rules governing taxi services.

The recommendation, a nonbinding opinion by an advocate general for the Court of Justice of the European Union, comes as Uber faces an array of issues worldwide. This year, the company has faced a sexual harassment scandal, allegations it tried to evade local law enforcement, and in June the resignation of its chief executive, Travis Kalanick.

The case before the court hinged on whether Uber should be treated as a taxi service, and therefore subject to rigorous safety and employment rules, or as a digital platform that merely connected independent drivers with potential passengers.

The French authorities brought criminal proceedings last year against Uber for infringing a law that required any vehicle carrying passengers for a fee to be licensed as a taxi service and have appropriate insurance.

Maciej Szpunar, an advocate general of the court, ruled on Tuesday that France could prohibit certain types of transport services it deemed illegal, including Uber’s low-cost service UberPop, without having to notify the European Commission. He pointed to his earlier recommendation in a case related to Uber in Spain, which said UberPop was a transport service.

Uber had argued that the law was also a “technical regulation” over digital services. As such, the company said, the French authorities were required to notify the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, before the legislation was adopted. Because France did not do so, Uber contended, the law could not be enforced.

The latest recommendation comes less than two months after a similar opinion said that Uber should have to comply with rules governing transportation companies. A final ruling in that case is expected by late summer, with a decision related to Tuesday’s case due by the end of the year.

The court typically follows the recommendations of its senior advisers, but it may still rule in the company’s favor.

Uber already operates in many European cities in compliance with transportation rules, but some of its services — particularly those that do not require drivers to have a taxi license — have been banned and face stiff opposition.

In France, protests against Uber have at times turned violent. The company and two of its executives have also been convicted and fined nearly $500,000 in France for running an illegal transportation service in a case related to UberPop, which did not require a professional livery license. That service has been suspended after a series of strikes by taxi unions led to a ban in France.

The pushback against Uber is part of wider tensions between the European authorities and American technology companies.

Google last month was slapped with a record $2.7 billion fine for antitrust violations, and Amazon and Apple have faced investigations over their tax practices in the region. Facebook has been scrutinized for its handling of its users’ data, and social networks now face fines in Germany for failing to swiftly take down hate speech and illegal content.

Uber faces its own issues. Revelations about sexual harassment and discrimination prompted an internal investigation into company culture. It has been dealing with an intellectual-property lawsuit from Waymo, the self-driving business under Google’s parent company, Alphabet. And revelations it used a tool, called Greyball, to avoid law enforcement led to a federal inquiry.

The company is now without a chief executive — a committee of executives is in charge — and has been grappling with months of turmoil and questions about its leadership and culture.