France seeks liberalizations, but bans Uber
Mixed signals from France. The Financial Times, among others, has stressed the potential of the liberalisation plan pursued by the new Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron.
The bill aims at lowering barriers to entry in liberal professions–notaries, pharmacists, et cetera. The remnants of the guild system would be weakened by opening liberal profession partnerships to external capital. Sunday opening hours will also be liberalised, albeit timidly: as a rule, shops should remain closed on Sundays, but it will be easier to obtain a waiver, particularly in tourist areas.
All of this may seem trivial to American readers, but it is indeed a significant step forward for France (see here a comment by French think tank IREF), a country well-known for a pervasive hostility towards market mechanisms and economic freedom in general. Monsieur Macron has been credited for this new course, which takes into account the need for creating new growth opportunities–particularly for younger people entering the labour market. France’s youth unemployment is 24%.
Interestingly enough, however, France has also just announced that it will ban UberPop (which in the US goes by the name of UberX) starting in January of next year. This in spite of a court decision that allowed Uber to continue to operate in Paris. The spokesman for the Ministry of Interior apparently commented on French TV that
Currently, those who use UberPop are not protected in case of an accident,” Mr. Brandet told the French news channel BFM TV, on Monday. “So not only is it illegal to offer the service, but for the consumer, it’s a real danger.
These are of course very different arguments: one that UberPop is illegal because the law requires all drivers who chauffeur paying passengers to have a license, and one that deals with the lack of appropriate insurance. But the fact that they are officially made together signals that the pressure on Uber is growing all over Europe.
The rape of a woman in Delhi by an Uber driver has created a window of opportunity to crack down on Uber services, having a good card to play in the public debate. Now, I found a bit bizarre the idea that Uber car drivers are more likely to be rapists than taxi drivers: is rationing the taxi supply enough to drive taxi drivers to be immaculately honest? Of course, local government doesn’t issue license plates to people with a criminal record: but my impression is that controls do not go much further than license issue. Nicole Gelinas has a very wise comment, on the issue.
However, in the European debate juxtaposing “Uber” and “rape” might just be working. A sense of anxiety and want for “security” may end up being instrumental in maintaining the status quo.
What is surprising in France is that the ban on Uber comes at a time when the French government aims to convince the world that its approach to competition and markets is changing.