The Advocate General of the European Court M. SZPUNAR gave an opinion in the case C‑390/18 AIRBNB Ireland v Hotelière Turenne SAS, Association pour un hébergement et un tourisme professionnel (AHTOP)Valhotel. The case concerns the following:
AIRBNB Ireland UC, a company governed by Irish law established in Dublin (Ireland), is part of the AIRBNB group and is wholly owned by AIRBNB Inc. AIRBNB Ireland administers, for all users established outside the United States, an online platform designed to connect, on the one hand, hosts (professionals and individuals) with accommodation available to rent with, on the other hand, persons seeking that type of accommodation.
Following a complaint against an unknown person, together with an application to join in the proceedings as civil party, lodged by, in particular, the Association pour un hébergement et un tourisme professionnel (AHTOP), the Prosecutor’s Office, Paris (France) on 16 March 2017 issued an initial indictment for handling of funds, for activities involving mediation and management of real property and business activities by a person not in possession of a professional licence, in accordance with the Hoguet law, and for other offences, alleged to have been committed between 11 April 2012 and 24 January 2017, and changed the status of AIRBNB Ireland to a ‘témoin assisté’ (a person who is not merely a witness, but to some extent a suspect).
AIRBNB Ireland denies acting as a real estate agent and claims that the Hoguet law is inapplicable on the ground that it is incompatible with Directive 2000/31.
It was in those circumstances that the investigating judge of the Tribunal de grande instance de Paris (Regional Court, Paris) (France), by decision of 6 June 2018, received at the Court on 13 June 2018, decided to stay proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court:
‘(1) Do the services provided in France by the company AIRBNB Ireland via an electronic platform managed from Ireland benefit from the freedom to provide services provided for in Article 3 of [Directive 2000/31]?
(2) Are the restrictive rules relating to the exercise of the profession of real estate agent in France, laid down by [the Hoguet law], enforceable against the company AIRBNB Ireland?’
The Advocate’s opinion:
1) Article 2(a) of Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (‘Directive on electronic commerce’), read in conjunction with Article 1(b) of Directive (EU) 2015/1535 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 September 2015 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical regulations and of rules on Information Society services, must be interpreted as meaning that a service consisting in connecting, via an electronic platform, potential guests with hosts offering short-term accommodation, in a situation where the provider of that service does not exercise control over the essential procedures of the provision of those services, constitutes an information society service within the meaning of those provisions.
2) Article 3(4) of Directive 2000/31 must be interpreted as meaning that a Member State other than that in whose territory a provider of an information society service is established cannot, for reasons falling within the coordinated field, restrict the free movement of those services by relying, as against a provider of information society services, on its own initiative and without an examination of the substantive conditions being necessary, on requirements such as those relating to the practice of the profession of real estate agent, laid down in Law No 70-9 of 2 January 1970 regulating the conditions of the exercise of activities relating to certain transactions concerning real property and business assets.