Uber Files: What is it? What we know about the links between Macron and Uber


Uber Files: What is it? What we know about the links between Macron and Uber

UBER FILES. A parliamentary commission of inquiry has confirmed the fact that Emmanuel Macron favored Uber when it set up in France.

A little over a year after the revelations of an international consortium, the parliamentary commission of inquiry devoted to Uber Files delivered its report on Tuesday July 18, 2023. Its conclusion points to the role of Emmanuel Macron in promoting the establishment from Uber in France. The state has "failed to uphold the law", according to the deputies of this commission who affirms that "Uber has found allies at the highest level of the state". "The intensity of the contacts between Uber, Emmanuel Macron and his cabinet testifies to an opaque but privileged relationship, and reveals all the incapacity of our system to measure and prevent the influence of private interests on public decision-making", indicates this report, while Uber did not comply with French law.

This 500-page report was built through 67 hearings where 120 people were heard despite numerous disagreements between the chairman of the commission, Renaissance deputy Benjamin Haddad, and the rapporteur, La France Insoumise deputy Danielle Simonnet. The latter underlines in the introduction her regret "that the commission of inquiry was not able to interview any of the former members of the Minister of the Economy at the time, since the office of the commission of inquiry systematically went there opposite."

Multiple interviews, SMS exchanges, personal links... The documents revealed by Mark MacGann, whistleblower behind the Uber Files, bear witness to Emmanuel Macron's involvement alongside the American company , in years when it tried to establish itself in France and faced hostile legislation.

Despite the reluctance of François Hollande, then President of the Republic, and the resistance of taxi unions, the young Minister of the Economy signed, for example, in 2016 a decree drastically facilitating the obtaining of VTC licenses, based on amendments drafted directly by Uber. Questioned during the publication of these revelations in July 2022, on the sidelines of a trip to Isère, Emmanuel Macron swept aside the critics, saying: "I assume, because it has created jobs and that is the role from the Ministry of the Economy. Quite frankly, it touches one without moving the other."

The Uber Files investigation, conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and published from Sunday July 10, 2022, lifts the veil on the methods and network of politicians, of which Emmanuel Macron was a part, that used Uber and its leader from 2013 to 2017, Travis Kalanick. With more than 120,000 supporting documents, sent anonymously to the British newspaper The Guardian and shared with the ICIJ, Radio France and Le Monde examined the role played by the Head of State in the establishment of American society in France during his term as Minister of the Economy, from 2014 to 2016.

Emmanuel Macron was an "attentive ear" to the Uber group and the thinking heads of the American firm, according to Le Monde, which consulted the documents of the Uber Files. The investigation reveals that several exchanges between the Minister of the Economy at the time and Mark MacGann, the chief lobbyist for the Europe, Africa and Middle East zones of the company Uber or with the founder and CEO of the company , Travis Kalanick, took place between 2014 and 2016. If the discussions went in the same direction on certain projects, for others the exchanges are more akin to requests from the company to the minister.

Installed in Bercy between 2014 and 2016, Emmanuel Macron was a fervent and one of the only defenders of the company of VTC Uber in the face of a government very hostile to society. According to the Uber Files, the Minister of the Economy played a role in the establishment of Uber in France by concluding a deal with the Californian firm. The terms of the agreement provided that in exchange for abandoning the establishment of the UberPop service, responsible for the anger and the taxi strike at the time, the conditions of access to the VTC driver license would be facilitated. The agreements were ratified between June and July 2015 according to Le Monde after numerous "significant" exchanges, 17 according to the newspaper's count, between the two parties. Uber would then have, on the suggestion of Emmanuel Macron, provided amendments to the socialist deputy Luc Belot. Texts which, presented as such before the Assembly, had been rejected before being taken up by the Minister of the Economy on the occasion of a decree passed at the beginning of 2016. The text in question allowed to reduce the duration of VTC driver training from 250 hours to just 7 hours.

Some exchanges between Emmanuel Macron and then Uber executive Travis Kalanick, included in the Uber Files, indicate that after months of confidential political discussions and strategies, the Minister of Economy and current Chief The State had put Bernard Cazeneuve, then Minister of the Interior, and Manuels Valls, former Prime Minister, in the scent of its agreement with Uber. The Minister of the Interior who was in charge of the taxis had then "accepted the deal" according to Emmanuel Macron to the American entrepreneur and the tenant of Bercy specified: "[Bernard] Cazeneuve will ensure that the taxis remain calm".

An investigation and search by the General Directorate for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) targeting Uber are also mentioned in the Uber Files and the name of Emmanuel Macron is associated with it. In 2014, when the leaders of the company expected a search by agents of the body dependent on Bercy, they asked the minister to get involved. Which had promised to have "a technical discussion" with the investigators according to a report written by Uber. But when a few weeks later Uber's premises in Lyon and its headquarters in Paris were raided, Emmanuel Macron's deputy chief of staff, Emmanuel Lacresse, responded to Uber's anger by explaining "that major administrations such as the DGCCRF (…) operate mainly autonomously". A statement that wanted to translate the inability of Emmanuel Macron to act. Today, the Head of State ensures that no instructions "have been given to the DGCCRF". As for the heads of the service at the time, they did not respond to requests from Le Monde.

The other case where Uber and Emmanuel Macron appear in connection concerns the ephemeral ban on Ubers in the Bouches-du-Rhône in 2015. The prefect of police, Laurent Nunez, had issued a prefectural order to this effect, to the chagrin of the American company. The decision did not please the firm and lobbyist Mark MacGann approached Emmanuel Macron, writing to him: "We are appalled by the prefectural decree in Marseille. Could you ask your firm to help us understand what is happening ?". In response, the Minister of the Economy had simply indicated "to look personally" at the affair. It was enough to wait a few days for the police headquarters to replace the ban with increased control of drivers. A choice which was in no way due to the intervention of the ministry according to Laurent Nunez, today a close adviser to Emmanuel Macron, who claims to have received no pressure or instructions from Bercy. The illegality of the decree is the only reason for the removal of the ban.

The exchanges discovered between Emmanuel Macron and the VTC company Uber in the thousands of documents in the Uber Files prove a relationship that is both economic and political between a Minister of the Economy and a company seeking to conquer a new market. It is clear that the two parties were walking hand in hand to achieve their own objective: the authorization to set up in France under optimal conditions for Uber and the liberalization of the market defended by Emmanuel Macron who posed, between 2014 and 2016, the milestones of his campaign to become President of the Republic.

The report of the parliamentary commission of inquiry confirmed that "the American company had still had 34 exchanges with the services of the President of the Republic between 2018 and 2022". The report did not reveal any financial compensation from Uber in favor of Emmanuel Macron. However, Radiofrance points out that "Mark MacGann while still working part-time as a lobbyist for Uber, gave money to candidate Macron and participated in a fundraiser on behalf of En March. SMS exchanges again show that the candidate Macron invited Thibaud Simphal, the general manager of Uber France, to dinner to offer him funding for his campaign.

The statements of the whistleblower behind the case and former Uber lobbyist, Mark MacGann, indicate that after 2016 Emmanuel Macron continued to have exchanges with the executive of the ride-hailing company in a completely different objective: to finance the creation of his party and his future presidential campaign. Mark MacGann says he offered financial help to the former minister after he quit his full-time job at Uber. He still remained "senior adviser to the board of directors" for a few months, according to Le Monde. If during the few months that Mark MacGann was still on the board of directors of Uber the question of conflict of interest arose, the problem was solved in August 2016. No document from the Uber Files suggests irregularities in the financing of the Emmanuel Macron's campaign.

Published on Sunday, July 10, 2022, the Uber Files shook up the political sphere. The opposition, from left to right, rose up against Emmanuel Macron and accused him of "looting the country" in the words of rebellious MP Mathilde Panot or, like Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally, gave it a coherence: that of "serving private interests, often foreign, before national interests". On Tuesday July 12, the Nupes requested the opening of a parliamentary commission of inquiry with the President of the National Assembly, the macronist Yaël Braun-Pivet.

Involved in the Uber Files and cornered by the opposition, Emmanuel Macron spoke on July 12 on the sidelines of a trip to Isère and "assumed" the decisions that were his when he was Minister of the Economy concerning Uber. “If I had to do it again, I would do it again”, he added and ensuring that he did not pay attention to the criticisms of the opposition in a formula borrowed from Jacques Chirac: “I understand that they want to attack to my apple. [...] I'm used to it. Very sincerely [...] I touch one without moving the other!" As for the majority, it came to the defense of its highest representative. The Elysée assured that the Head of State was fully in his functions as Minister of the Economy when he exchanged with the company Uber, an argument taken up by Macronist deputies such as Prisca Thévenot who, on Twitter, was annoyed : "Scandal: a Minister of the Economy receives economic actors. I will tell you that Roland Lescure receives industrialists [and] Marlene Schiappa from ESS actors. Faced with the arrival of hybrid bikes, normal at the time that Emmanuel Macron received them as minister". The elected Hauts-de-Seine also indicated that she did not fear a commission of inquiry, Emmanuel Macron having nothing to reproach himself for.

This is another scoop from the Uber Files: the involvement of economists including two French researchers, Nicolas Bouzou and Augustin Landier, in Uber's large-scale lobbying strategy. According to documents included in the thousands of exhibits seen by investigative journalists, in 2016 the two researchers agreed to publish studies praising the American company's business model for a fee. Nicolas Bouzou had thus written in a study that thanks to more flexible legislation, the system proposed by Uber could create more than 100,000 jobs. The economist had then priced his work at “10,000 euros excluding tax” and would have offered to provide after-sales service for his study to politicians and the media. Asked by Le Monde, the economist denied having been paid to promote the company Uber. As for Augustin Landier, he had shared, according to the Uber Files, 100,000 euros with the co-author of the study he had conducted and in which he assured that Uber's VTC drivers would earn more than double the minimum wage, being careful not to specify that the numerous and costly charges were not deducted from the amount announced.

If the remuneration of economists by Uber in return for carrying out a study questions the objectivity of the conclusions, the work of the researchers had also been questioned by the scientific community. Economists pointed to the confidentiality of data which prevented the verification of figures and the identification of bias.

The Uber Files not only lifted the veil on the lobbying strategy of the Californian ride-hailing firm, Uber, but also on certain practices it used until 2017 that bordered on illegality. When Travis Kalanick was in charge, Uber didn't appreciate comings and goings on its premises and ruled out the idea that internal company data could be accessed. The company has thus developed a clever system with the unequivocal name of "kill switch". It is a simple emergency button that immediately blocks access to company data in record time. The kill switch has been used several times during searches of Uber premises, numerous in Europe between 2014 and 2015. According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the obstruction tool was used at 13 repeated between November 2014 and December 2015 in seven European countries: France, India, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, Hungary and Romania. The "kill switch" was notably activated during searches of the Lyon premises and the Paris headquarters of Uber, as evidenced by these messages from Uber's legal director for Europe, Zac de Kievit, to Uber's general manager Travis Kalanick and the leader of the French branch, Thibaud Simphal: "The DGCCRF raided our office. Access was cut off".

The kill switch was well designed to prevent or hinder searches, yet according to Zac de Kievit, the system is simply a protection. "If we provide our list of drivers, we lose our 'reserve'. It's much easier for tax authorities, regulators and the police to terrify [our drivers] into giving in. no business. To be clear, I want to appear as cooperative as possible with the tax authorities. But if we send them the list of drivers, the carrots are cooked, "explained the legal director in 2015 in an email included in the Uber Files.

If the use of the "kill switch" was recurrent under the direction of Travis Kalanick, today this use is no longer in the mores, according to the new management of Uber, in place since 2017. "Uber does not have a 'circuit breaker' designed to thwart regulatory investigations around the world, since Dara Khosrowshahi became CEO of Uber in August 2017," the company told Franceinfo. The company added about the kill switch: "We do not dispute the fact that this type of software could have been used in France. As we have said on several occasions, it should never have been used in the way he was." After the publication of the Uber Files, Travis Kalanick did not wish to respond to requests from the press and simply expressed himself through his lawyers and his spokesperson: "Travis Kalanick has never authorized any action or program who would have obstructed justice in any country." On the specific issue of the "kill switch", its spokesperson, Devon Sturgeon indicates: "Uber has used tools that protect the intellectual property and privacy of its customers, and guarantee the respect of rights in the event of [search] extrajudicial. It is a common business practice that was not designed or implemented to 'obstruct justice'."

According to documents seen by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its partners, Uber allegedly practiced tax evasion, saving them as much as $500 million in taxes worldwide. It would thus have been decided to transit the profits of the American company through Bermuda and other tax havens.

In 2022, Franceinfo revealed that the company Uber would have decided to put the focus on its drivers in order to create a kind of diversion for the tax authorities. Thus, the American company would have proposed to the administration to collect the taxes from them. The documents consulted by investigative journalists also take the example of a country where Uber has gone even further. Thus, in Estonia, a digital tax declaration platform was tested in partnership with the tax authorities of the Eastern European country.

Mark MacCahan is the whistleblower behind the Uber Files case. He sent no less than 124,000 documents to the British daily The Guardian, which were passed on to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Initially anonymous, Marc MacGann quickly decided to come out of the shadows. This man is none other than the former chief lobbyist of Uber, whose name is mentioned in numerous documents. At 52, he therefore decided to go to the other side and become a whistleblower, believing he was "partly responsible" for the living conditions of Uber drivers, as he confided in an interview with the Guardian, transcribed by Radio France and Le Monde.

In his interview, Mark MacGann denounces the practices of his former employer: "The mantra that people repeated from one office to another was that of management: do not ask permission, go for it, hustle, recruit drivers , get out there, do some marketing and pretty soon people will wake up and see what an awesome thing Uber is." Moreover, he justifies not having acted from the inside: "The corporate culture did not really allow to resist, to question the decisions of the company, its strategy or its practices. I ended up realizing that I had no influence, that I was wasting my time in this business."

Russia, United Kingdom, Netherlands... The Uber files have highlighted the practices of the VTC company to establish itself in many countries and profit there. This happened, for example, through the recruitment of influential political advisers: the editor-in-chief of the famous tabloid Bild, in Germany, or the press boss Carlo De Benedetti in Italy. Here are some important cases revealed in the Uber files concerning foreign countries.

“God I love Russians, where business and politics are so… close,” wrote lobbyist Mark MacGann, now a whistleblower in these Uber files, in 2016. Between 2014 and 2016, Uber attempted to enter the Russian market. In a new article published Wednesday July 13, 2022 by Le Monde, we learn that in 2016, the VTC company paid at least 300,000 dollars to the Russian businessman Vladimir Senin, then vice-president of Alfa Bank and member of a pro-Kremlin political party. The purpose of these payments appears in the revealed documents: the businessman was to influence the Russian political sphere on bills favorable to the establishment of Uber. Corruption experts interviewed as part of the Uber Files see the revelations as a likely violation of the 1977 US Bribery of Foreign Public Officials Act.

The article from Le Monde further reveals Uber's strategy to influence the Russian political sphere: "I believe we want an ally of Putin", wrote Emil Michael, vice-president of Uber, in 2014. For this, Uber convinced several Russian oligarchs close to power to take a stake in the company. Several hundred million dollars have thus been invested in Uber by Alicher Ousmanov, German Gref, Mikhaïl Fridman and Petr Aven. These oligarchs today deny having lobbied for Uber with power.

In 2015, France, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands decided on a joint investigation into Uber's tax practices. The internal email exchanges revealed show that this investigation caused a wave of panic to blow among Uber executives. The company even considered not cooperating and refusing to provide the information requested of it for the investigation. But she finally found the support of the administration of the Netherlands, where the seat of her financial powerhouse, Uber B.V. is located. time to put our affairs in order,” wrote Rob van der Woude, tax director of Uber. Subsequent exchanges indicate that the Dutch administration has kept Uber informed of the progress of the investigation.

"It's a betrayal of community spirit!" reacted an official of the French Ministry of Finance to Le Monde. The same official indicates that at the time, suspicions had weighed: "In certain files, we had indications suggesting that companies had obtained information which could only come from a multilateral control, but we do not never had irrefutable proof."