Europe’s silent shift to self-employment

Self-employment is becoming more diversified in Europe. [Shutterstock]

Self-employment is becoming more diversified in Europe and covers an increasing number of activities. But this small revolution raises issues when it comes to social protection. EURACTIV.fr reports.

In Europe, opportunities related to self-employed status are diversifying and the freelance model has become more attractive for more and more professions.

In contrast to traditional self-employed professions like doctors or lawyers, freelancers do not have a business background or licence, said Laetitia Vitaud, an expert on the future of work. 

“They are not in a regulated profession. They choose to work directly with companies without becoming employees and refuse to be directly subordinated to them,” Vitaud told delegates at a EURACTIV event in Paris on 26 June.

Although the IT sector and creative professions (designer, graphic designer) were the first concerned, the freelance model is spreading across new sectors, according to Vincent Huguet, CEO of the platform MALT, which connects freelance workers with companies.

“Coordination jobs in marketing, communication, or project management, which were traditionally reserved for employees can now be done by freelancers,” he explained.

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Freelance status, which was previously associated with unemployment and a lack of job security, is now one that is increasingly sought after, according to a survey conducted by the platform among its users which constitute a very specific section of the population. For 90% of them, working freelance constitutes a choice.

This trend is less pronounced at European level among the self-employed. According to the European agency Eurofund, 60% of respondents have chosen this status, while 20% adopted it out of necessity.

Strong European disparities

In France and in Europe, there has been change in the categories concerned among the self-employed. This status now concerns above all “stable self-employed workers”, especially those working in the areas of public administration and services.

In Europe, however, self-employment is still far from being common. According to the European agency there are 32 million self-employed in the EU, representing 14% of the working population. A stable level since the 2000s, but which masks large disparities.

“The situation differs greatly among member states,” said Max Uebe, Head of Unit at the European Commission’s Employment DG. “For example in Greece, the share is higher, 31% are self-employed, while Denmark has the lowest level with 8%. “

The breakdown between those choosing and those obliged to be self-employed differs sharply as well. “In the Nordic countries choosing to be self-employed is more common, representing 80%” while “in other countries such as Romania, Portugal and Croatia most of those concerned are obliged to be self-employed,” Uebe said.

Platforms and social security

These differences reflect the share of “vulnerable” self-employed workers in each country. According to Eurofund, they account for 17% of the total number of self-employed in the EU. At a time when the EU is discussing a common base for social rights, the question of adapting social security measures remains, as they have all been devised in Europe based on the notion of employment, said Laetitia Vitaud.

Despite proposals from the Commission on access to social security provisions for employees and the self-employed, member states find it very difficult to agree on this highly political issue.

App economy jobs come under Commission scrutiny

The European Commission will change an EU law on employment contracts by the end of the year in a move to create standards for precarious jobs created by online apps like Uber and Deliveroo.

Those involved in the freelance labour market might take action before any agreement is made. Platforms and apps are developing their services in this area by directly negotiating with banks and insurance companies.

“All the placements that go through our platform are insured in terms of civil and professional liability by AXA,” said Vincent Huguet. “We want to take it a step further and we are working (…) with a banking and health insurance partner towards providing welfare cover.”

In another example, the iconic Uber platform has entered into a partnership with AXA, providing its drivers with accident and occupational health insurance. According to Clara Brenot, head of public affairs at Uber, the firm wants to develop professional training and retraining services for its drivers.

Uber needs prior authorisations to operate, EU court says

EU judges ruled on Wednesday that Uber is a transport service, rather than a digital app, and therefore requires national authorities’ authorisation to operate in Europe.

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