Business Irish

Saturday 22 October 2016

Anti-American bias not behind EU probes, says Vestager

Colm Kelpie and Donal O'Donovan

Published 04/06/2016 | 02:30

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager

Europe's top competition regulator has insisted investigations into Apple, Google and other US tech firms are not motivated by an anti-American agenda.

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If a company is found to have broken state aid rules, it must repay the money it owes in taxes - no matter where the company is from, the EU's competition commissioner has warned.

In a speech at University College London, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said her office is investigating Google because it believes that its actions may have harmed competition.

And she said some so-called tax rulings issued by member states may have favoured American companies - a barely veiled reference to the long running probe she's heading up into Irish tax authorities treatment of Apples taxes.

The EU's Apple investigation has been running for more than two and a half years, with no sign of concluding. The Government here insists there was never a special tax deal for the technology giant.

The EU has accused Google of promoting its shopping service in internet searches at the expense of rival services in a case that has dragged on since late 2010.

US policy makers, including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, have questioned the apparent focus on American firms.

But Ms Vestager stood over the moves. "It's been clear for decades that giving state aid doesn't necessarily mean handing over cash. It can also involve letting a company escape its obligations - including the obligation to pay taxes," Ms Vestager said.

"So the only thing that's new about our work in the last three years is that we've been looking at a different way of giving this type of aid. Not only through public schemes, but through individual tax rulings issued to a company by a tax authority.

"Some of those rulings may have favoured American companies. And where that's the case, our approach is exactly what it would be if they were from Europe. We'd be failing in our duty if we didn't take a very close look," she said.

The Commission can fine firms up to 10pc of annual sales, if it finds against them on competition grounds.

Irish Independent

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