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CWA # 762, 24 July 2022

NIAS Europe Studies
France: Uber files leak, and Macron’s trouble

  Padmashree Anandhan

The Uber files leak exposes the exploitation of France’s taxi industry, digital loopholes and the extent of political lobbying

What has been found in the leaks?
In early July, The Guardian reported on leaked documents of Uber; it was found to have breached laws, held lobbying campaigns, and involvement of leaders from prominent countries to expand and establish its brand. The documents were let out by Uber’s former chief lobbyist in Europe, Mark McGann to The Guardian, which contains an exchange of emails, iMessages, WhatsApp texts, memos, and invoices that took place between the senior executives of high-performing MNCs and politicians between 2013 to 2017.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and US president Joe Biden have been mentioned in the leaks. For Macron in France, the consequences of involvement in Uber’s lobbying campaign are important.

What is the French-Uber scandal?
Macron, the then finance minister was found to be directly engaged in the promotion of Uber in France. When Uber was formerly led by Travis Kalanick, where the company was new in the market, through strategies such as UberPop, UberX, and Kill Switch it exploited the taxi market across 40 countries.

In France, Uber offered services at much less cost and replaced France’s taxi industry. The initial threat created by Uber was infusing job insecurity amongst the taxi drivers, but later the company weaponized its drivers to protest and involved in violence to gain sympathy and portray a bad image of France’s taxi drivers. Its lobbying effect furthered to reaching out to governments and politicians to draft Uber-friendly laws.

One such major break of laws was through “UberPop.” Under the “car-sharing” idea, Uber allowed individuals to use their own cars to provide rides. The concept was in violation of France’s commercial transport service. Later with the help of Macron, Uber worked around a deal to implement the same under UberX through granting of VTC licensing to the Uber drivers.

Although the French government was convinced to draft flexible laws for UberX, other countries did not have defined ridesharing regulations. For which there were numerous raids carried out in the offices of France, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, Hungary, and Romania. In such cases, the company used “Kill Switch” where the site executive will ask the IT staff to shut the access to data system so that the government will not be able to trace any evidence.

What was Macron’s deal with Uber?
The overlap between Uber’s supporters and Macron’s En March party. The Uber files revealed how the supporters of Uber, who held positions as EU Internal Market and Industry Commissioner, advisor to Macron and a Socialist deputy were keen on holding a top executive positions in Uber. They later became part of En Marche, or to support Macron’s presidency campaign. The biggest challenge will be to define the boundaries Uber, Macron and his close allies shared. Which will determine Macron’s continuity and the party’s existence.

Uber which was just launching itself in the market, found Macron’s “Startup Nation” initiative as an entry point to France. Whereas Macron positioned as the finance minister who wanted to expand the regulated French economy and reverse the increasing unemployment rate saw it as an opportunity. At the domestic level, many young men with immigrant backgrounds, and unemployed were influenced by Macron’s support of new business systems and joined Uber for jobs. Through this Uber gained the human resource to establish itself in competition with the taxi industry. This provided a way for Macron to draft flexible labor laws that suited tech-advanced companies like Uber.

At the governmental level, allies close to Macron and executive officers of Uber worked closely to sign a secret deal using a socialist government. Macron was observed to be campaigning and supporting the Uber promotional activities as he saw Uber as a rule breaker to conservative France. Placing the same argument amongst the socialists, he signed a deal in the Cabinet which broke the Thévenoud legislation. Uber was allowed to shut down its controversial UberPop and instead implement UberX with fewer regulations. Which reduced the requirement of hours needed to become a VTC driver.

So what next?
First, increasing digital-induced legislation. Five years ago, the startup nation idea of Macron evolved to “La French Tech” opening platforms to new technologies and business systems for Europe to stand in par with the US and China. This has now led to not only new legislation such as the Digital Markets Act (which monitors tech companies’ online behavior) and the Chips Act (ensure resource and value chains for semiconductor and new technologies) but help understand the nuances of the threats arising from such digital scams.

Second, it undeterred Uber’s growth. The existing management and head have accepted the scandal and have assured the credibility of existing possibilities. But the expansion and the profits the company acquired through the scandal and post-2017 cannot be undone. The investigation and court proceeding might slow down or have a short-term impact on its performance, but what has been established will remain established.

Third, more trouble for Macron. The national assembly is increasing its bet to investigate Macron’s dealings with Uber, questioning the legitimacy of the presidency. Since the lines are unclear, it will be a real challenge for Macron to prove the extensiveness of the relations with Uber and his involvement in supporting the activities of the company.


About the author

Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. She is currently working on the commentary on the UN ocean conference: Global initiatives towards sequestering blue carbon.

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