Opening speech at the High-level conference on
“Collaborative Economy: Opportunities, Challenges, Policies"

Brussels, 11 October 2018

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Introduction

Minister,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to warmly welcome you to this high-level conference on the collaborative economy.

I am personally very happy of this event.

Since the start of my mandate, I have taken a keen interest in the collaborative economy.

The Collaborative economy is a fast growing sector.

Two years ago, the collaborative economy was significant in size but still young.

Today, we estimate that the collaborative economy generates more than 26 billion Euros annually.

A new Eurobarometer opinion poll was published earlier this week.

It shows that nearly one in four Europeans has already used services offered via collaborative platforms.

And we expect these numbers to grow further.

“Collaborative Economy: Opportunities, Challenges, Policies” - this is the title of today’s event.

Because we see the opportunities that are available to citizens and entrepreneurs in this new, innovative and dynamic sector.

A sector that brings together services users and providers via online platforms.

The collaborative economy is changing the way services are provided in the economy.

It is challenging existing and established businesses. It is opening new markets. It is supported by consumers who find cheaper and often higher quality services.

I will develop these opportunities later on.

But at the same time, be assured.

We are fully aware of the challenges that come with it.

This is why across the European Commission we have been working hard to develop the best policies for this new field.

Because whether we like it or not, the collaborative economy is here to stay and to grow.

So instead of focusing our energy on trying to prevent innovation from happening, our approach has been to focus on framing it correctly.

I want to be clear: Our single market must help these new business models grow because they are about jobs and competitiveness. And frankly, we are not yet there.

But at the same time we have to make sure they develop in a responsible and balanced way.

This is the reason why two years ago, in June 2016, we published a Communication entitled “European Agenda for the collaborative economy”.

This was a milestone.

Because it set out the overall policy line of the Commission.

Namely to promote the development of the collaborative economy in Europe in a balanced and sustainable manner.

The Communication was an important first step.

We know we cannot and should not stop there.

With your help, today’s conference will take stock of policy, regulatory and market developments since that Communication.

And it provides a chance to discuss policy solutions.

But let me come back to the opportunities, the challenges and the policy ahead.

Opportunities

Ladies and gentlemen, the collaborative economy offers great opportunities.

First, opportunities for citizens as users of services.

Citizens can receive new innovative services and enjoy greater choice.

The new Eurobarometer survey shows the most appreciated advantages by consumers:

  • Convenient access to services via collaborative platforms;
  • User ratings and reviews; and
  • Collaborative services are considered cheaper or even free.

Second, opportunities for citizens to become economically active.

On an occasional basis and without becoming a professional service provider.

Thus generating additional income.

Pensioners can take care of other people’s gardens.

Someone keen on “do-it-yourself” or DIY can offer repairs on demand.

Foreign students can help citizens learn other languages.

More than one in five Europeans say they can imagine offering services on collaborative platforms or have already done so.

Third, opportunities for businesses.

Opportunities in terms of new distribution channels and access to new customers.

An easy way to interact with consumers is the most frequently mentioned reason for offering services via collaborative platforms as well.

I believe that we all agree that the collaborative economy can make an important contribution to innovation, entrepreneurship and economic dynamism.

At the same time, I am sure that you would agree that the value of the collaborative economy for our society depends on us being able to address the challenges.

Challenges

Let me therefore turn to the challenges the collaborative economy poses.

Buzzwords like “over-tourism” and “bogus self-employed” might fuel the already heated debate.

But they represent real problems in people’s everyday lives.

Two years ago, we expressly decided that the Commission would promote the sustainable and long-term development of the collaborative economy.

We support entrepreneurship and innovation.

At the same time, we want to ensure that consumers are protected, taxes and social contributions are paid, and social rights are applied.

Many of us, who work for public authorities, are facing the same questions.

No matter whether we work at European, national, regional or local level.

And I know many companies active in this area who are asking themselves these questions.

Clearly, we need common answers to common issues.

Unfortunately, we are still seeing too much fragmentation.

With policies and regulation being very different without any objective reason.

We see an increased regulatory fragmentation within and between Member States.

Restrictive laws imposed in some Member States and legal uncertainty on how EU rules apply.

In our Communication, we made an important first step with legal guidance and policy recommendations.

But more can be done.

Policies

So since the Communication, we have been working in partnership with national and local regulators.

To translate the guidance and recommendations of the Communication into tangible policies in Member States.

We did so by focussing on specific sectors.

For example, the short-term accommodation sector.

We met bilaterally with numerous cities and regions to discuss policy proposals, legal drafts and strategies.

We have also started a dialogue with 14 large European Cities to specifically work on the challenges they face.

At the same time, we hosted a series of workshops for representatives of national, regional and local authorities and stakeholders from all sides to meet.

These workshops allowed us to discuss the European legal framework as well as policy principles and good practices.

The specific elements we can retain from the sector of short-term accommodation rental services in the EU are:

  • Some larger cities face challenges with today’s scale and form of tourism. Even though tourism provides a main source of income for these cities and their citizens.
  • Other cities and rural areas do not face the same challenges.
  • Discussions show that a simple online scheme for the mandatory registration of accommodation providers is broadly considered an effective policy solution.
  • But to go further to authorisation schemes would require a solid justification by a legitimate public interest objective and must be proportionate to meeting that objective.
  • Absolute bans of an economic activity should be a measure of last resort as they raise issues of proportionality.
  • Collaborative platforms can play a crucial role in supporting the application of registration requirements and other obligations, such as in the field of taxation.
  • But we need to distinguish between citizens providing services on an occasional and private basis on the one hand - so called peers - and services providers acting in a regular or professional capacity on the other.

These elements can ensure that policies are both, effective and proportionate. And that not one type of business is favoured over another.

We have prepared a summary of the policy principles and practices identified during last year’s workshops.

This will be the basis for discussion in the afternoon panel on the short-term accommodation sector.

But we have also worked on other issues, through studies allowing a better analysis of the economic and employment impact of the collaborative economy.

We have also presented legislative proposals.

  • A year ago, we presented guidelines on the application of liability rules for cases where platforms take voluntary action and proactively remove illegal content in good faith.
  • Last February, we adopted a Recommendation to Member States on the obligations of platforms to remove illegal content.
  • We have put forward several initiatives within the European Pillar of Social Rights. These will make sure that we take account of new forms of employment, such as on-demand workers and platform workers.
  • We proposed a new system for the taxation of the digital economy. It is designed to ensure that digital activities are taxed in a fair and growth-friendly way in the EU.
  • We proposed a New Deal for Consumers. This will help ensure consumers know whether they are dealing with a business or another private citizen.

Many of these proposals are not exclusively tailored to the collaborative economy. But they will apply to it.

So we are taking full account of the collaborative economy when we prepare these policies.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, clearly the European Commission cannot act alone.

We must work together to take advantage of the opportunities that the collaborative economy offers.

And we must do so by providing the right policy environment.

The Commission will continue to play its role.

We will continue to monitor the situation.

We will continue working to ensure that existing EU law is consistently applied across the EU.

Because Europe should offer a competitive and fully functioning Single Market for these services.

Without compromising consumer and employees’ protection and without favouring one business model over another.

This sounds easy, but we all know that it is not.

So I am looking forward to an interesting debate today.

We are curious to hear your feedback of what we have done so far.

Curious to hear your ideas for the future.

And grateful that you are ready to tackle the existing challenges together.

Looking into this room, I am very happy to see

  • representatives from the Member States;
  • as well as industry representatives from traditional and collaborative sectors;
  • but also interest groups for consumer protection as well as for workers’ rights.

I believe that the diverse mix of participants mirrors the wide range of opportunities.

And the diversity of interests at stake.

This mix is a promising ground for today’s debate.

Thank you.

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