The European Parliament has estimated the economic gain related to the sharing economy at € 572 billion. While the sharing economy has certainly become a buzzword over the past years, triggering extensive coverage from the media, think thanks but now also slowly national governments and European institutions, its precise contours remain unknown. First, there is the terminological challenge as the terms ‘the sharing economy’, ‘collaborative consumption; ‘the collaborative economy’ and the ‘peer economy’ are employed to refer to largely the same – yet different phenomena. Second, and much more importantly, the forms and impact of the sharing economy remain difficult to capture. Trying to define the sharing economy is like trying to shoot at a moving target due to its rapid development.
The sharing economy can be best described by the mantra of ‘access over ownership’. Whatever its specific expression most practices referred to as sharing economy practices consist in the sharing of an underutilized asset, a sharing that is favored to exclusive ownership. Netflix was an early example, and Airbnb is likely the most well known contemporary expression thereof. The platform, which lists over 1,500,000 rooms in 190 countries has more hotel rooms than the world’s biggest hotel chains, yet doesn’t own a single one of them. Netflix and Airbnb are however but two of millions of sharing economy platforms. Other examples include Liquidspace, which allows individuals to rent desks or offices for a limited period of time, TaskRabbit, a time and skill-sharing platform, SharedEarth, a platform that allows those that have a garden or field but no interest in gardening to rent this out to gardening aficionados and spilt the resulting produce or LaRucheQuiDitOui that allows individuals to collectively buy local produce from farmers. BlaBlaCar is a poster child of the sharing economy. The French start-up facilitates car sharing by connecting individuals with a car and empty seats going to a given location at a given time with those eager to undertake the same journey. While the costs of the journey are shared the driver does not make a proper profit out of the journey. BlaBlaCar was created in 2006 and counts 25 million members in 22 countries. In 2014 it had a turnover of €10,000,000.
While the idea of ‘access over ownership’ is not new – suffice it to think of town or university libraries, its current expressions are. The sophistication of the Internet as well as the quasi-universalization of Internet access (in this part of the globe!) have reinvented and indeed revolutionized traditional sharing practices. What may be most striking about this phenomenon is that it has begun to touch virtually any sector as people can and are willing to share virtually anything. That sharing is not (only) driven by economic need is underlined by platforms such as boatsetter, a peer-to-peer rental platform for yachts. The definition to the sharing economy however remains difficult, not least in light to the sheer variety of practices it refers to, which, for instance, can be for profit, or not for profit, such as for instance Olio, which facilitates food-sharing to prevent waste. Moreover, any discussion of the forms and consequences of the sharing economy is burdened by its close nexus to related phenomena such as technological change, data protection, and the transformation of work.
The sharing economy is nonetheless gaining ground fast, and this across geographical borders and economic sectors. While it might be an exaggeration to claim, as some do, that the sharing economy has initiated the ‘end of capitalism’, the sharing economy, and the technology that underlies it, is without a doubt transformative in nature. Despite the entire buzz surrounding the phenomenon, quasi-silence continues to surround the phenomenon in the Grand Duchy. There are however a number of reasons why regulators and policy-makers are starting to think about the sharing economy. First, the sharing economy is moving fast, and, as the technology that facilitates its operation, knows no geographical boundaries. While sharing economy platforms are by no means as wide-spread in Luxembourg as in other parts of Europe, they have started to arrive in the Grand Duchy, for instance in the form of Airbnb, and regulators may soon have to think about how to address this. Second, the sharing economy comes with a lot of promises, many of which Luxembourg should be keen to embrace as they align with policy priorities and also the Rifkin initiative. Many indeed see in the sharing economy the promise of a sustainable way of consumption and indeed life. Third, the sharing economy bears the promise of addressing a multitude of contemporary governance challenges, such as, for instance, transportation. While anyone that has ever been to the ‘Autos-Festival’ will understand that Luxembourgers may be less fast and enthusiastic about embracing car sharing, anyone commuting to and from Luxembourg City will understand the benefits this could bring. Last but in no way least the economic magnitude of the sharing economy should be relevant for an economy that wants to be inspire progress. The sharing economy is a fast-growing multi-billion sector. Suffice it to mention here LendingClub, a peer-to-peer lending platform has made transactions worth $ 16 billion by 2015. This should not go unnoticed in an economy still largely focused on the financial sector.
While the definition and evolution of the phenomenon thus remains subject to many uncertainties it cannot be ignored that the sharing economy is not just the flavor of the day but a train that has left the station and which, more likely than not, will also stop in Luxembourg in the not too distant future.

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