Blog by Wijnand Jongen, Chairman of the Executive Committee Ecommerce Europe
Neelie Kroes is furious. And rightly so. In her blog, she fiercely rages against the judgment of the Belgian Commercial Court that actually prohibits the taxi service app Uber in Brussels. The judge on duty undoubtedly found legal grounds somewhere in order to arrive at this ban on Uber – with a penalty amounting to € 10.000,- for every Uber driver who picks up a customer. However, our Vice-President for the Digital Agenda has a valid point that innovation is halted on the basis of legislation. This really is a kiss of death and reminds me of days long past: the public burning of catalogues by merchants at the end of the nineteenth century, the ban on department stores with unit prices and the search for safety constructions for the luxury goods industry in the 21st century. It shows the inability of a sector to deal with innovations that are massively embraced by consumers, and faster than by the business community.
The Digital Revolution influences all aspects of social life. This hurts many sectors because they are not able to follow the rapidly changing consumer behavior. Therefore, it also hurts the taxi industry, which apparently conducted a successful lobby with Brussels mobility minister Brigitte Grouwels in order to uphold the taxi cartel. Grouwels proved to be sensitive to the argument that Uber would result in job losses. In my opinion, the fact that the current taxi industry needs state support says it all. In addition, people seem to forget that e-commerce in fact is a major force for job creation. According to association Ecommerce Europe, the e-GDP, the contribution of e-commerce to the European GDP, amounts to 3.2%. Also, just imagine how many new jobs innovation generates.
What is actually going on here is that even Belgian (!) rules are not in line with the market developments of the 21st century. These rules should be adapted, with fair competition as the objective. Prohibiting innovation is a sign of weakness and proves the inability of policymakers and sectors to deal with new developments. It is pointless and causes frustration.
My message? Governments, including Ministers, should fully, really fully, embrace the online channel and innovation through the Internet. All across Europe, this will cut two ways. The more traditional sectors may arrive at new business models by incorporating digital entrepreneurship and e-commerce in their companies. And the e-commerce sectors that are already active in B2B and B2C are enabled to deal with the already strong global competition. In the words of the European Commission: “for growth and jobs!”