Globally, the volume of trade in the sharing economy is estimated at around EUR 17.8 billion, with rapid annual growth forecast until 2025. In response to a request from the Dutch presidency, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has issued an opinion on the sharing economy and self-regulation which calls on the EU to “urgently define a clear and transparent legal framework within which these activities should be developed and implemented in the European area”.
The economic, social and environmental benefits of the sharing economy include the potential to strengthen solidarity between people, boost local economies, create jobs, rationalise household consumption by pooling the use of certain goods, reduce energy footprints and promote more responsible and sustainable consumption, according to the opinion.
The EESC therefore urges the Commission to undertake policy measures to ensure that the sharing economy gains “credibility and trust at EU level and in the various Member States”.
Ensuring fair play
New business models, such as the collaborative economy, bring with them regulatory issues which must be addressed if the social benefits are to be delivered. In particular, these new business models must comply with national and EU legislation. Key issues include workers’ rights, appropriate taxation, data protection and privacy issues, social rights, fair competition and the fight against monopolies and anti-competitive practices. The range of exchanges taking place over platforms created to facilitate the sharing economy need to be closely examined.
The opinion also calls for the rights of all partners operating in the sharing economy to be protected, including prosumers (producer-consumers), “by adapting these relations across the existing EU acquis on consumer rights, with particular reference to unfair contractual terms, unfair commercial practices, health and safety and e-commerce”.
EU-level definitions and guidance on the sharing economy are urgently needed, as some Member States have tried to fill the void by defining their own policies independently. The EESC calls on the Commission to publish without further delay the long overdue European agenda for the collaborative economy.