Online hospitality service Airbnb scored a major win in the European Court of Justice after the advocate general, Maciej Szpunar, ruled that the company should be treated as a digital service provider and free to operate across the European Union.
The ruling struck down a lawsuit by France’s tourism association which tried to restrict Airbnb’s services after a Paris prosecutor acted against the company in 2017 following a hotel association’s complaint.
According to the court, Airbnb can now be considered an information service because it provides potential guests with housing arrangements and other services that are connected to landlords via an electronic portal. As Airbnb only provides details connected to landlords, the court ruled that it cannot be regarded as a real estate agent.
Under the EU’s regulations, France’s real estate laws cannot override the domestic statutes of a fellow EU member. ln Airbnb’s case, the company is registered in Ireland and therefore not subject to being to the jurisdiction of the French legal code. To do so would be a direct threat to the European Union’s freedom of services.
The European Commission can look at certain individual cases, but the restriction of services can only be applied when the issue of consumer protection is a factor.
What is particularly germane to this and most other cases from the European Court of Justice in that the French courts, which will issue a final ruling on the Airbnb case later this year, may opt to disregard Szpunar’s ruling as it is consultative, though not legally binding, conclusion. Typically, however, the advocate general’s conclusions are considered authoritative by the courts of the 28 European Union members and are regularly used as a guideline for a final ruling.