The so-called Shared Economy has revived an age old idea but projects it on a much greater scale, putting in contact people who do not know each other but have something to share. This is producing a mushrooming of applications, with demonstrable benefits for consumers and citizens.
From the point of view of public policy, the shared economy throws up different challenges, prominently among them the application of competition policy.
On 1 December Vicky Ford MEP, Chair of the EP Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) and EIF Steering Committee member, invited representatives from shared economy companies, the European Commission, consumer rights organisations and academia to share views on the collaborative economy and how it will change the rules of competition. In her opening remarks Vicky Ford, stressed the importance of putting the shared economy at the heart of the Digital Single Market agenda, making sure Europeans can take full advantage of it.
Eliana Garces-Tolon, Deputy Chief Economist at DG GROW, European Commission, presented the regulatory issues in the shared economy. She observed that regulation in the sharing economy should be purpose based and that at the moment it is too early to see the effective ways of regulation as it is still unclear how this economy is going to scale up.
Alexandre de Streel, Professor of EU Law at UNamur and UCLouvain and Director of CRIDS, gave a theoretical overview of the shared economy, its regulation and competition.
Stefan Krawczyk, Associate General Counsel & Head of International Government Relations at eBay Inc., noted how today online companies in Europe are forced to follow the laws of the XX century. Companies simply cannot grow and foster innovation if they must compete by the rules of offline businesses. He also called for a simplified and unified e-commerce environment in Europe.
Fabienne Weibel, Head of Public Policy at Bla Bla Car, presented the case study of this French car sharing company and the regulatory difficulties the company is facing at the moment.
Juliette Langlais, Public Policy Manager for the EU institutions at Airbnb, presented the features this platform is offering for consumers. She also noted how this platform allows the general public to compete with traditional business and earn extra income, and stressed that the shared economy is already subject to many existing regulations.
Guillermo Beltrà, Head of Legal and Economic Affairs at BEUC, explained how consumers are affected by the rise of the shared economy. He noted that from the consumer’s point of view it is important to make a clear distinction when a consumer is dealing with another consumer vs. a service provider (and the selling consumer becomes service provider) because there are two different regimes regulating these transactions and consumers can have different rights.
Serafino Abate, Director Competition Economics at GSMA, summarized the debate by reviewing how the established players are coexisting with the new companies in the global economy.
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