Online rental company Airbnb uses its status as an Irish-registered company to frustrate attempts by local authorities in European capitals to curb distortive effects on the housing market with tougher rules, according to a new report commissioned by MEPs.
The report, published by the Left group in the European Parliament, accuses the platform of driving up rents through a pervasive presence in the cities most popular with tourists, weighing into a debate over the regulation of tech multinationals as the EU prepares to overhaul its rules for digital services.
Under the country of origin principle of current EU legislation, internet firms must comply with the laws of the member state in which they are legally established in their operations across the bloc.
The report, authored by activist Murray Cox and Kenneth Haar from the Corporate Europe Observatory, accuses Airbnb of using this rule to dodge rules imposed in Berlin that would require it to disclose the names and addresses of hosts.
Requests for hosts' tax records from France, Germany, South Korea and Iceland also had to be heard by the Irish Supreme Court in a process that took "several years", according to the report.
Meanwhile, efforts in Vienna to protect social housing "must be adjudicated by Irish courts against Irish law".
“In Europe, Airbnb has used the EU’s country of origin principle, to force European cities to appeal to the Irish courts... for the right to fine platforms, request data, or to defend the regulations in their own city,” the report reads.
"European cities far away from Ireland make the point that while continental Europe courts share many similarities, and their lawyers are familiar with their processes, the Irish courts whose current legal system is modelled after English common law, are unfamiliar and challenging to navigate."
Martin Schirdewan, a German MEP who is co-president of the Left group that includes independent MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace and Sinn Féin's Chris MacManus, called for the European Commission to force such tech companies to co-operate with city councils in its forthcoming Digital Services Act, a package of regulations due to be proposed next Tuesday.
“Airbnb and similar short-term rental platforms have driven up rents, hurt urban communities, and ravaged affordable social housing programmes. This cannot go on,” Mr Schirdewan said.
“We need the EU to support cities throughout Europe in dealing with this disruption by delivering strong rules to force such companies to co-operate properly with city councils.”
Airbnb denies that its platform causes housing costs to rise, arguing that it instead helps hosts to afford their homes. The company had not responded to a request for comment by time of publication.