A Public Hearing on collaborative consumption took place in the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) – one of the advisory bodies of the European Commission – on September 25th in Brussels. Participants had the opportunity to exchange views on the topic with a broad range of institutional and other stakeholders. An Opinion Paper on collaborative consumption is open for comments until December and it will be formally adopted by the EESC on January 1st. It will be later transmitted to the European Commission (DG Health and Consumer Protection) that will decide whether legislation on the topic of collaborative consumption or other initiatives should be considered.
The event confirmed the growing importance of collaborative consumption for European regulators and their need to be better informed about the various initiatives and developments in the sector in order to facilitate its growth in Europe.Collaborative consumption fits well within the EU policy framework because of some common objectives: increase resource efficiency, create jobs and prosperity, build community participation, advance social innovation and generally accelerate a shift towards a stronger, more resilient Europe.
Many new collaborative consumption companies have operations in Europe, making the continent an incubator for new business models that creates a more sustainable economic development. However, the emergence of collaborative consumption in Europe is not happening without challenges. Innovations face substantial financial constraints and often lack institutional support and scale. New comers also struggle with a number of outdated regulatory frameworks, hostility of established enterprises and friction with trade unions and consumer organisations, which creates uncertainty that may inhibit investments and development of the sector.
Collaborative consumption is affected by many EU policies and addressed within existing EU initiatives regarding health and safety, consumers protection, resource efficiency, taxation, insurance, employment etc. Presentations made at the event by Airbnb, the European Crowdfunding Network and other car and bike sharing companies in Belgium confirmed that collaborative consumption enterprises are finding more and more that their national and international markets are shaped by European regulations and that markets can work better if regulations can ease their smooth functioning. Their business strategies must therefore be based on the legal instruments that the EU is likely to introduce if they want to unlock European markets, reduce burdensome regulations and generate competitive advantage.
Presentations made by Euro Freelancers, ShareNL and OuiShare at the event emphasized that the narrative of collaborative consumption is typically framed as a bottom-up, grassroots action. All of the proliferating collaborative consumption initiatives in Europe are focused on a small piece of a much larger puzzle and considerable change will not come from a disconnected group and a fragmented start-up scene along the value chain. However, if the most active organisations join forces to share a compelling agenda, an inspiring long-term vision and coordinate their EU policy actions, they could pave the way for the top-down framework conditions needed to scale-up collaborative consumption.
European policy makers should help to set up networks with leaders from cities (e.g. via the EU Covenant of Mayors or the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities) and create local working groups to address regulations that could hamper collaborative consumption, bringing together residents and neighbourhoods, redefining public services, innovation and civic engagement. This will help to build capacity, spread information and ideas about successful models for collaborative consumption and facilitate the transferability of best practice solutions across Member States.
European policy makers should also incentivize public investments (grants, subsidies) for pilot projects, platforms and initiatives on collaborative consumption all over Europe, above all in cities.
The EESC event marked the launch of the European Sharing Economy Coalition as the first pan-European network to make the case for European policies that place a much greater emphasis on sharing and collaboration, as the driving force behind a more prosperous, sustainable and competitive European economy.
More information about the EESC event including the Opinion Paper, program and presentations can be viewed here.