The European case centers on whether Uber should be considered a transportation service or a digital platform. A senior adviser to Europe’s highest court recommended designating the ride-hailing company as a transportation service.
Uber suffered a setback to its global expansion plans Thursday when a senior adviser to Europe’s highest court recommended that the ride-hailing company comply with the region’s tough transportation rules, potentially hobbling growth of its service across the Continent.
The nonbinding opinion comes as Uber faces growing pressure worldwide after a string of missteps by its executives angered regulators and raised questions about the leadership of Travis Kalanick, the company’s chief executive.
The European case centers on whether Uber should be considered a transportation service or a digital platform that merely connects independent drivers and potential passengers.
By designating Uber a transportation service, Maciej Szpunar, an advocate general at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, said Thursday that the company should comply with European countries’ safety rules, as well as with other legislation that applies to the traditional taxi associations that are Uber’s main rivals across the region.
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“Uber cannot be regarded as a mere intermediary between drivers and passengers,” Szpunar wrote in an opinion that will be reviewed by the European Court of Justice, which is expected to make a final ruling by late summer.
“It is undoubtedly transport which is the main supply and which gives the service meaning in economic terms,” Szpunar added. “The service amounts to the organization and management of a comprehensive system for on-demand urban transport.”
The opinion represents a bloody nose but not a full knockout for Uber in its continuing fight in Europe, a region still crucial to the company despite rapid expansion in emerging markets like India. Uber has gained traction across the Continent, despite some restrictions or outright bans on some of its services, including on UberPop, its low-cost offering.
The European Court of Justice typically follows the recommendations of its senior advisers, but it may still rule in the company’s favor.
Uber has doggedly defended its right to operate freely across the Continent, telling Europe’s highest court in November that it was helping the region’s digital economy grow and that it should not be regulated like traditional taxis.
In many European cities, the ride-hailing company already operates services that comply with existing transportation rules that apply to rival taxis. But some of Uber’s other services, particularly those that do not require drivers to acquire a government-backed taxi license, have been banned in certain countries, notably in France where local opposition to Uber has often turned violent.
“Being considered a…