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Airbnb an 'opportunity' for Barcelona, says consumer protection MEP

Nicola Danti states that online platforms offering accommodation or transport should not be banned amid dispute between Barcelona and Airbnb

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28 June 2017 11:48 AM

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ACN | Barcelona

The sharing economy should be seen as an opportunity but one that needs European regulation, said MEP Nicola Danti in a press conference in Barcelona on Monday. The MEP’s statements come amid a controversial dispute between Barcelona’s city government and Airbnb, the online platform for renting tourist apartments. The vice president of the EU’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee chose the Catalan capital as the place to explain a European Parliament resolution on the collaborative economy. “Cities have to play an important role and it’s crucial that online platforms also take on responsibilities,” he said. 

According to Danti, what is needed is common regulation that distinguishes between “peers” and “professionals” and assures sustainable growth of large and small platforms in Europe. Asked about the online service providers Uber and Airbnb, Danti defended them as “creative” and “positive” for the sharing economy, but argued that they need regulation to assure fair competition. “Uber is a transport service, this is clear, and not just a digital service, so they have to respond to the same fiscal and consumer regulations as local services in the sector,” he said, adding: “If I paid a tourist tax in the hotel this morning, Airbnb should do the same.” 

Talking to CNA, the Italian MEP explained that it was important to see the sharing economy, including online platforms that offer alternative services to the traditional economy as an opportunity, but that a legal framework for all European countries was needed. “Europe has the problem of great fragmentation in 28 states, each with its own regulations and thousands of local regulations,” Danti said. 

The MEP above all highlighted the need for a separation between professional and nonprofessional services or so-called “peer” services. “Compare an owner who offers dinner once a week in her home to someone who offers dinner for payment in his house every day of the week.” 

  • “It’s important that European law gives local administrations powers to become actors and have direct contact with the online platforms. Not everything can be regulated from Brussels”

    Nicola Danti · MEP

Decentralization in the control over the sharing economy is also essential, Danti said. “It’s important that European law gives local administrations powers to become actors and have direct contact with the online platforms. Not everything can be regulated from Brussels,” Danti added. 

Regarding alternative online platforms that respond to the high demand for tourist accommodation in European cities, the Italian MEP used his hometown of Florence as an example, where people have to leave their homes in the historic center because tourist renting has caused prices to skyrocket. “The same happens in Barcelona,” he admitted and he stressed the need for city governments to be able to regulate these kinds of activities because they directly affect residents and cause life in neighborhoods to disappear. 

The Barcelona government is currently investigating several cases against the Airbnb lodging platform and has already denounced a former Airbnb executive who rented illegal tourist accommodation. The executive rented a place for himself and later offered it on Airbnb, something completely “unacceptable” and “unjustified”, according to the deputy mayor for Ecology, Urbanization and Mobility, Janet Sanz. The city council has requested an explanation from Airbnb. The city government argues that the online rental company is offering illegal tourist accommodation, and has already fined Airbnb €600,000.

Only last week, Barcelona hosted a meeting on rental law, in which a former member of the regional parliament of be North Rhine-Westphalia explained that in Germany rental prices are regulated in every area of the city. Instead of short-term rentals, long-term rental become attractive, allowing neighborhoods to maintain their social cohesion. 

The Catalan administration is moving in this direction, and has presented an initiative for a rental price index by neighborhood and possible tax reductions for owners who adapt the rental price to the price index for their area. he city government has also taken measures, such as linking financial support for apartment renovation to a stable rental price. 

Regarding consumer figures in Europe, at 19% Spain is higher than the European Union average in the use of online platforms. One out of six Europeans use sharing economy platforms. The four most popular sectors are accommodation, crowdfunding, transport and the job market. 

A non-binding European Parliament (EP) resolution on the sharing economy was passed by a large majority on June 15 in Strasbourg. The resolution demands that the European Union provide clear guidelines for the collaborative economy in order to guarantee consumer protection, workers’ rights, tax obligations and fair competition. 

Nicola Danti pointed out that one of the most practical and fundamental ways of controlling these online platforms are so-called ratings. “Most consumers decide on using the service of a platform because of the ratings,” he explained. “That’s where we should direct our efforts, because it is important to the platform to have good ratings,” Danti suggested. 

The European politician pointed out that the collaborative economy should not be seen as a threat to the traditional economy, but that MEPs need to create regulations that promote this branch of the economy instead of stopping it. Thus, the EP states on its website that it “is against the restriction of the offer of tourist accommodation through the collaborative economy.”

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  • MEP Nicola Danti in Barcelona

  • MEP Nicola Danti in Barcelona

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