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Macron defends his support for Uber after leak of company files

(Lucy Naland/Washington Post illustration; Eliot Blondet/AFP/Getty; Uber screenshots; iStock)

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday defended his interactions with Uber, responding to a trove of company documents that reveal he at times even surprised executives with the extent of his support when he was economy minister and they were trying to muscle their way into European markets.

The documents dominated a portion of the debate in France’s Parliament on Tuesday, amid calls for an inquiry and criticism that Macron had done Uber’s bidding at the expense of workers’ rights and against the will of the left-leaning government he served at the time.

“I’m very proud of what I’ve done,” Macron told reporters during a visit to the southeastern French region of Isère.

The president, who appeared to be visibly emotional, ignored several attempts by aides to get moving as he offered his first public comment since the Uber documents were published on Sunday by Le Monde, The Washington Post and other outlets.

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

“I saw foreign business leaders — horror!” he said sarcastically. “If they created jobs in France, then I’m super proud of it. And you know what? I would do it again tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.”

“We have to fight to ensure that young people who come from difficult backgrounds get jobs,” he said.

Some members of the opposition have described the Uber documents as a looming “state scandal” and potential evidence of a “collusion of interests.”

Macron lost his absolute majority in parliamentary elections last month, which leaves him more exposed to scrutiny than in his first term, and under political pressure from his emboldened far-left and far-right opponents.

“In substance, your project is [to create] Uber’s society of a worker without rights. It is a collective social suicide,” said Danielle Simonnet, a left-wing member of parliament, addressing the government in the National Assembly on Tuesday.

The Uber files, containing executives’ internal messages from 2013 to 2017, were leaked by former Uber lobbyist Mark MacGann to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a D.C.-based nonprofit newsroom, and dozens of other news organizations worldwide.

Macron had made no secret of his general support for Uber when he was economy minister. 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.”

But the Uber files show that his support went further than previously known. According to the documents, Uber managers and lobbyists believed he was willing to champion 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.

Macron’s allies appeared ready this week to defend his interactions with the company. Budget Minister Gabriel Attal portrayed the outrage as overblown on Tuesday. “As usual, we make a ton of foam with a gram of soap,” he said on BFM TV. “I don’t even see an issue.”

But the files could prompt uncomfortable questions for Macron and his supporters.

Uber sought ‘strategic investors’ in foreign media to win government favor

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

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

Far-left leader Jean-Luc 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. Mélenchon is now the public face of the biggest opposition bloc in the lower house of Parliament, where a possible inquiry would be expected to take place.

Members and allies of Mélenchon’s party, France Unbowed, have been among the most vocal critics this week.

Macron’s “combat is not in support of young people 'from difficult backgrounds’,” wrote Mathilde Panot, the alliance’s leader in Parliament, on Twitter. Instead, Macron’s dealings with Uber had been in support of “CEOs who gorge themselves unhindered on the backs of self-employed and unprotected drivers,” Panot wrote.

Read the investigation: The Uber Files

The Uber Files is an international investigation into the ride-hailing company’s aggressive entrance into cities around the world — while frequently challenging the reach of existing laws and regulations. Documents illuminate how Uber used stealth technology to thwart regulators and law enforcement and how the company courted prominent political leaders, Russian oligarchs and media conglomerates as it sought footholds outside the United States.

The project is based on more than 124,000 emails, text messages, memos and other records that a former top lobbyist for Uber, Mark MacGann, provided to the Guardian. It shared the material with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which helped lead the project, and dozens of other news organizations, including The Washington Post.

Read more from the investigation:

Key takeaways from the Uber Files

Uber leveraged violent attacks against its drivers to pressure politicians

Former top executive, Mark MacGann, comes forward as source of Uber Files

‘Hit the kill switch’: Regulators entered Uber’s offices only to see computers go dark before their eyes

Uber promised South Africans better lives but knew drivers risked debt and danger

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

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