Uber’s lobbying activities in France face inquiry after Guardian investigation

Uber files project revealed that company identified Emmanuel Macron as key ally

Uber’s lobbying activities in France and its relationship with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, are facing an official inquiry following an investigation led by the Guardian last year.

A committee of French MPs will now investigate the ride-hailing company’s relationships with public officials, including with Macron, after journalists revealed extensive lobbying of politicians by the company.

The Uber files project, which was published by the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), revealed that the company identified Macron as a key ally during his time as economy minister.

Macron sought to assist Uber, at one point claiming that he had brokered a “deal” with its political opponents, the files indicated.

The documents were provided to the Guardian by Mark MacGann, formerly Uber’s chief European lobbyist, who said he had come to believe the company was exploiting its drivers. In its response to the investigation, Uber admitted mistakes and said its new CEO had overhauled the company’s practices.

Danielle Simonnet, the French MP who brought the motion calling for the inquiry, said that in addition to the economic consequences of the gig economy, the commission would examine the “role of public officials” and “relationships between public and private decision-makers”.

The phrasing appears to be a euphemistic reference to Uber’s relationship with Macron. A previous motion by Simmonet was rejected last year on the grounds that it explicitly referred to the French president.

The French inquiry is the second parliamentary investigation into Uber’s political relationships to commence launched as a result of the files. A two-month Belgian commission of inquiry into the Uber files was scheduled to begin on Thursday.

Separately, on Wednesday the Uber files were debated at a session of the European parliament in Strasbourg.

Several MEPs expressed concerns about last year’s reports, as well as ongoing lobbying of European parliamentarians by private interests generally. Others were severely critical of Uber’s business model and accused the company of exploiting drivers.

“Workers can have flexibility while being employed,” said Kim van Sparrentak, a Dutch Green MEP. “People with difficulty finding work deserve a real job, with rights and fair wages, rather than a gig work app that follows their every step.”

Agnes Jongerius, of the Dutch Labour party, said lobbying of MEPs had become even more intensive since the Uber files investigation and called on the parliament to “look at the influence exerted by large technology companies as well”.

“If we don’t do this once and for all now, this [gig economy] model could be like an oil slick on the whole economy,” she said.

Uber denies exploiting drivers. In response to the Uber files investigation it said the company had “moved from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration, demonstrating a willingness to come to the table and find common ground with former opponents, including labour unions and taxi companies”.

The company said Uber was “now regulated in more than 10,000 cities around the world, working at all levels of government to improve the lives of those using our platform and the cities we serve”.

Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Ylva Johansson told the Strasbourg debate that the commission “attached great importance to the role of whistleblowers for the good functioning of our democracy and economy”.

She added that the commission had sought further information from the former digital commissioner Neelie Kroes after the files suggested she had secretly helped Uber to lobby the Dutch government, and that the European anti-fraud office (OLAF) was currently examining the matter.


David Pegg

The GuardianTramp

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