The Brussels Parliament’s special Uber Commission has not found any “illegal or illicit practices” on the part of government members or illegal lobbying practices by both Uber and actors in the traditional taxi sector.
Those findings, 20 in general, were approved on Monday by all political groups except PVDA, and 14 recommendations were also formulated. That also means that State Secretary Pascal Smet (One. Brussels-Vooruit), the former Mobility Minister who came under strong fire in the UberFiles, is innocent all along the line.
The special Uber Commission came late last year after the publication of the UberFiles, an investigation by an international journalists’ consortium including, from the Belgian side, Knack, De Tijd, and Le Soir.
This revealed that there were contacts between the multinational Uber and the Brussels government in preparing to reform the taxi ordinance. The contracts between Pascal Smet, then Brussels Mobility Minister, and an Uber lobbyist were particularly noticeable. The scope was extended to the traditional taxi sector. Cieltje Van Achter (N-VA) chaired the commission.
And the conclusion? Despite how the American-based transportation network company Uber pushed its way into Brussels, the commission found no illegal lobbying practices or unauthorized practices by government workers.
The same applies to the traditional taxi sector, notwithstanding that repeated attempts at influence and pressure were found and that the current Uber management has apologized for the way in which it imposed itself in Brussels. This led to explicit threats to both colleagues and political mandatories, physical attacks on drivers, and calls to vote for certain political parties and personalities.
No appropriate framework for lobbying activities
However, the hearings with experts did reveal the lack of an appropriate framework for lobbying activities in the Brussels Region. There were also questions about the division of powers for mobility and paid passenger transport between two government members, which some felt was an obstacle to the proper functioning of remunerated passenger transport.
In its 390-page draft report, the commission does call for the ordinance to be amended before the summer recess so that the Brussels deontological commission can be set up and a deontological code drawn up for MPs.
The government should also create its own deontological code for ministers and cabinet members.
‘Recommendations will not change anything’
The regional advisory committee on taxi services is also to be reconstituted. That committee already existed in the previous taxi ordinance but had last met in March 2018. The committee should also be involved in reviewing the new taxi ordinance, and its reports should be published.
The commission also calls for consideration of a Brussels register on interest groups, while each cabinet should keep a register of all contacts that take place during the legislature.
According to the Marxist opposition party PVDA, which did not approve of the findings, the fact that Uber did not engage in illegal lobbying practices is totally out of touch with reality. The multinational operates without scruples, uses outrageous means, exploits drivers, and tries to avoid unionization. “Smet and Vervoort have made Uber practices possible, and the recommendations will not prevent that such serious things will still be able to happen.”
Commission chair Cieltje Van Achter (N-VA) pointed out that the committee work has shown that there are many frustrations in the sector. “I hope that with the commission, we have been able to bring about a turnaround and that the recommendations can help with this,” she concluded.
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