Christophe Ena / AP
The EU's highest court ruled on Tuesday that France can bring criminal charges against Uber administrators for operating an illegal taxi service. France can do that without first notifying the European Commission, the judges said.
The case refers to a French law that considers it a crime to organize a taxi service without the approval of the government. A criminal court in Lille, one of the largest cities in France, brought charges against Uber for UberPOP, a car-sharing service that used non-professional drivers to transport passengers to their destinations. Uber received a fine of 800,000 euros and two executives were also fined, reported Reuters.
Uber France argued that the criminal charges against its employees were inapplicable because France did not obtain the approval of the new law by the European Commission. EU legislation requires member countries to notify Brussels of legislation on digital services. Uber users ride in a cell phone application.
But last year, after taxi drivers in Barcelona complained that Uber was subject to different standards of taxi companies in their city, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) classified Uber as a "transport" company, not as a digital service.
In Tuesday's ruling, the CJEU said that UberPOP in France is "essentially identical" to the Uber service in Spain. In a written statement, the court said: "Member States may prohibit and punish, as a matter of criminal law, the illegal exercise of transport activities in the context of the UberPop service, without notifying the Commission prior to the bill that establishes penal sanctions for the exercise of such activities ".
Uber says the ruling will not affect its operations in France or the EU because UberPOP has already been discontinued in France. "This case is about whether a French law of 2014 should have been previously notified to the European Commission and related to P2P services that we stopped in 2015," a spokesperson said in a statement emailed to NPR. "As our new CEO has said, it is appropriate to regulate services like Uber and thus we will continue the dialogue with cities across Europe."
What might the opinion mean for other technology companies offering services in the EU, such as Airbnb? Critics worry that it could thwart innovation in the digital sector. "It means that the European Commission will have limited power to prevent the adoption of national restrictive provisions," said Damien Geradin, founder of a Brussels-based law firm specializing in competition law and intellectual property of the EU, which spoke with The Financial Times .