Protecting the Freedom to Freelance
Glen Hodgson, CEO of Free Trade Europa, is passionate about making Europe a place full of vibrant opportunity once again. He has watched with frustration as national governments and the European Parliament have expanded bureaucracies and increased regulations, stifling innovation, prosperity, and workers' ability to benefit from a more dynamic world.
Glen says this trend of increasing regulation undermines the promise of the European Union to make economic prosperity more accessible than ever across the continent. “Everyone took for granted globalization, free trade, openness, and personal choice,” Glen said. “But what we’re seeing through time, particularly in this era of polarization and fragmentation, is that it’s not a given anymore, even in Europe.”
Free Trade Europa—an Atlas Network partner based in Stockholm, Sweden—is working to ensure Europeans are free to take part in a rapidly changing and increasingly tech-connected economy. Though the “gig economy” and freelance work existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, the explosion of remote work highlighted the importance to many workers of having a variety of employment options. These individuals include people with disabilities, single parents, students, caretakers, and millions of others who want to work and contribute to society, but wish to do so on their own schedule and on their own terms.
Freelancers No More?
In Europe, 58 million people already make their living as freelance or “gig” workers, but national governments and the European Parliament make it difficult and costly to take advantage of these new opportunities, and calls for even greater restrictions are coming from some corners.
In Nordic countries, for example, freelancers are required to go through the process of starting a formal business, imposing red tape on workers and making it difficult to move between jobs. Across much of Europe, a freelancer whose income may vary month-to-month is seen as an unacceptable risk by financial institutions, limiting their access to banking services.
A recent draft directive in the European Parliament would have forcibly reclassified individuals working through app-based gigs as “employees,” imposing minimum wage laws, union requirements, and other regulations, stripping away many of the freedoms provided by the freelance model. It’s likely that these workers would have been unable to continue freelancing within these restrictions and would be shoehorned into a traditional job or no job at all.
With a stroke of a pen, Glen says, 58 million people would have been “reclassified against their wishes and against their will, driven mainly by the lobbying of the left-wing politicians and the trade unions who want to look after themselves as opposed to the workers and their rights.”
Capitalizing on a Community of Experts
Working with sympathetic members of parliament and allied organizations, including Atlas Network partners, Glen has led the charge to protect and expand the rights of workers seeking non-traditional employment that works better for them. He earned grant support from Atlas Network for this work as he was selected to compete in the Think Tank Shark Tank pitch competition at the 2022 Europe Liberty Forum.
Free Trade Europa helped put a temporary pause on the passage of the draft directive by educating members of parliament on how the policy would harm everyday people. They amplified worker voices by surveying over 2,500 freelancers and found that 80% of respondents reported that their work gave them freedom, flexibility, and made them happy.
Free Trade Europa then launched a petition to save freelancing in Europe. This has gained 12,000 signatures so far and was instrumental in EU member states voting down proposals to effectively ban freelancing in Europe.
Glen described why he is so passionate about protecting the rights of freelance workers in Europe. “If you see things happening and don’t do anything, you have no position to complain. You have to act. We want to be that force for good.”