Uber files leak: Macron’s dealings may prompt parliamentary inquiry

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron was facing public criticism and parliamentary scrutiny Monday after a trove of documents detailed close links between him and Uber during his time as France’s economy minister.

“We urgently need to be able to get clarity, and to draw the consequences,” said Alexis Corbière, the vice president of the main far-left party’s parliamentary group, who suggested a special inquiry beyond the debates expected in the French National Assembly and Senate this week. “A president — or someone who wants to become one — cannot be a lobbyist in the service of the interests of private companies,” said Corbière, according to Public Sénat, a parliamentary television channel.

France’s left-leaning and far-right opposition parties, emboldened by recent gains in the country’s parliamentary election, jumped on the revelations on Sunday night and Monday morning, describing them as a looming “state scandal” and potential evidence of a “collusion of interests.”

Macron never hid that he was an early Uber supporter. But company executives’ internal messages from 2013 to 2017 suggest that his backing went far beyond what had been known publicly — and on occasion conflicted with the policies of the left-leaning government he served at the time.

As Uber steamrolled into France, Emmanuel Macron was a ‘true ally’

The documents are part of the Uber Files, a trove of more than 124,000 internal records obtained by the Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit newsroom, and dozens of other news organizations worldwide, including The The Washington Post.

On Monday, former Uber lobbyist Mark McGann publicly identified himself as the source of the files. The Washington Post and other project partners previously agreed to keep his identity confidential.

According to the files, Uber managers and lobbyists believed that Macron was willing to support them by pushing regulators to be “less conservative” in their interpretation of rules limiting the company’s operations, and by attempting to ease rules that hampered the company’s expansion in France. At times, Uber was even surprised by the extent of its backing, internal communications show.

Asked for comment ahead of publication of the documents, the French presidency said in a statement to The Post and other outlets that the “economic and employment policies at the time, in which [Macron] was an active participant, are well known” and that his “functions naturally led him to meet and interact with many companies.” Asked for additional comment after publication, the Élysée on Monday referred reporters back to its earlier statement.

“I knew that [Macron] was in favor of Uber,” said Alain Vidalies, who was France’s transportation state secretary from 2014 to 2017. But “I must say that even I am flabbergasted,” Vidalies told France’s public broadcaster.

About the Uber Files investigation

Although the documents end in 2017, the year Macron was elected president, they directly relate to how Macron has tried to implement his agenda since.

Macron, who was reelected in April, has sought to liberalize the French economy — and, according to his critics, that has involved steamrolling anyone who raises concerns about the social impact of his moves.

That criticism is expected to find a bigger stage in Parliament during his second term, now that he has lost his absolute parliamentary majority, amid gains from the far left and far right. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a staunch critic of Uber and other multinationals operating in France, is now the public face of the biggest opposition bloc in the lower house of Parliament, where the possible inquiry would take place.

Takeaways from the Uber Files investigation

Mélenchon has regularly complained of the “uberization” of French society, an umbrella term used to describe ride-hailing and home delivery services, and he lashed out against Macron’s support for a sector that he views as having undermined worker rights.

Members and allies of Mélenchon’s party, France Unbowed, were among the most vocal critics on Monday.

Mathilde Panot, the alliance’s leader in Parliament, suggested that Macron had helped Uber in “looting the country” and criticized the president for having acted as a “lobbyist for a US multinational aiming to permanently deregulate labor law.”

Aurélien Taché, a left-wing member of Parliament, said the files raised questions about “Emmanuel Macron’s conception of loyalty in politics, towards the government to which he belonged at the time and towards his country.”

According to the files, Macron was in frequent contact with Uber executives between 2014 and 2016 and strategized over moves that at times appeared to conflict with the objectives of then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls and others who advocated stricter rules for Uber and similar companies.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right party — which, despite her defeat in the presidential contest, won 11 times more seats in last month’s parliamentary election than it did in 2017 — similarly seized on the files, describing them as “the first scandal of Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term.”

But Macron’s allies — who still hold a simple majority in Parliament — appeared ready to defend his interactions with the company.

“Above all, he is the president who has allowed the arrival of a certain number of companies and indeed to promote the emergence of companies in our country, promote their establishment, support our reindustrialization, facilitate job creation. I believe that this is clearly the role of a minister of the economy and of a head of state,” Aurore Bergé, who leads Macron’s party in Parliament, said on French TV.

The Uber files may raise questions in France that go beyond the extent of Macron’s support.

Uber leveraged violent attacks against its drivers to pressure politicians

The files also show that Uber used covert technology to thwart government raids during its global expansion. And as enraged taxi drivers, fearing for their professional survival, clashed with their Uber competitors on the streets of Paris in 2015 and 2016, some company executives viewed the physical confrontations as a means to win public sympathy and support.

“The most important question” now, wrote Cédric OFrance’s former state secretary for digital affairs under Macron, “is whether or not the establishment [of Uber] was a good thing socially and economically.”

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