Uber has had its fair share of unrest in the United States, mostly at the hands of the taxi industry that is not happy about the competition that Uber has given its business. But recently, a collection of over 124,000 records, known as the Uber Files, was leaked to The Guardian, and expresses how Emmanuel Macron and ex-EU commissioner Neelie Kroes helped keep Uber’s ruthless business tactics afloat between 2013-2017 in Europe. These documents show a $90M-a-year lobbying effort that Uber engaged in to find friendly politicians to upend Europe’s taxi industry and put Uber on the top.
Travis Kalanick, the controversial former boss of Uber, not only had a close relationship with Macron, but benefited from Macron’s law reform. After years of shenanigans, the shareholders finally forced Kalanick out in 2017. Uber says his replacement, Dara Khosrowshahi, was “tasked with transforming every aspect of how Uber operates” and has “installed the rigorous controls and compliance necessary to operate as a public company.”
In the years between 2013-2017, Uber in Europe experienced scandal after scandal, including sexual harassment cases, data breaches, and a wide influx of court cases. Uber first launched in Europe in Paris, met with strong resistance by the taxi industry that led to violence in the streets. In August 2014, Macron was appointed minister for the economy, and had a good feeling about Uber. So began a long but quiet relationship between Macron and Kalanick. They met several times over the years, and at one point Uber wrote to Macron saying it was “extremely grateful” for his assistance.
With the recent disclosure of the paper trail, a lot of new information has been gleaned. Emails like this one from Kalanick to Macron show a relationship more personal than it should have been:”Uber will provide an outline for a regulatory framework for ridesharing. We will connect our respective teams to start working on a feasible proposal that could become the formal framework in France,” an email from Travis Kalanick to Mr Macron reads. The documents also show how Kalanick ordered the “kill switch” used, so police could not access the computers, and especially these email files.
Kroes, for her part, added a lot of fuel to the fire as one of Brussels’ top officials, and she was negotiating to join Uber before her political term ended, and secretly lobbying for them along the way.
Uber saysits “past behaviour wasn’t in line with present values” and it is a “different company” today. UberPop, launched in 2014, made the French taxi drivers particularly angry, because it allowed unlicensed drivers to offer rides at much lower prices. Though courts banned it, Uber kept running it while they challenged the ruling. On June 25, 2015, the protests became violent, and a week later Mr Macron texted Mr Kalanick with an apparent offer of help.
Adnan Zai, Advisor to Berkeley Capital, said “Governments helping private enterprises has been a tradition that goes back to Christopher Columbus being financed by a kingdom for commercial benefit. In the U.S., lobbying and special interests is completely legal. No other country has the same level of systemic policies. The rest of the world went about it in a very different manner to achieve the same end goals however. Government and special interests have had a special marriage for centuries and will continue in the foreseeable future.”For European taxi drivers, the future is looking up as Uber is behaving better. But this whole debacle begs the question, how powerful should special interest groups be, and just how close can they get to politicians before you cry foul?