Q4/2019 - European Union
Speeches by EU Vice President Margarethe Vestager, Copenhagen, 5 December 2019 and Brussels, 9 December 2019
The new European Commission started its work on 1 December 2019. In the new Commission, Vice President Margarethe Vestager will be the person who is mainly responsible for digital policy. Ms Vestager chairs a new intersectoral group of EU Commissioners, which is called “Commissioners’ Group on a Europe Fit for the Digital Age”. Margarethe Vestager presented core elements of her future policy in two speeches at the beginning of December 2019.
In a speech on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Internet on 5 December 2019 in Copenhagen, she said that the vision of the founders of the Internet, who considered “shared interests and values and not money” as vital for an “ethical, open, trusted, free, shared” Internet, no longer were in line with today’s realities. The Internet had become a place where power and money mattered and in which “the voices of CEOs and governments” were dominating. She added that neither state control nor monopolistic dominance could be the “European way”. Europe had to put the interests of its citizens, i.e. users and consumers, in the center: “In the face of corporate power and state power in the Internet, Europe’s approach should be based on a clear guideline: people’s power. The focus of our efforts must be to ensure citizens are empowered to take decisions on how their data are used, and that technology is developed to serve humans. The global Internet should be an open, safe and secure cyberspace where human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law fully apply, with a view to societal well-being, economic growth and the integrity of free and democratic societies.”
In another speech on 9 December 2019 in Brussels, Vestager requested an innovative approach to a new competition policy that takes into consideration the changes the economy has experienced in the last two decades. The old mechanisms of competition policy which were based, among other things, on the prices of products and services, no longer worked. Instead, many of the new business models offered a complete ecosystem of services. The new digital platforms developing from them kept consumers tracked in proprietary systems. A modern competition policy had to be designed to breaking up these digital walled gardens.
Resolution des Europäischen Parlaments zu „Fair Taxation in a Digitalised and Globalised Economy“, Straßburg, 18. Dezember 2019
On 18 December, the European Parliament adopted a resolution concerning digital tax (Fair taxation in a digitalised and globalised economy). Never before has the European Parliament taken a more comprehensive position with regard to this controversial issue, which is primarily discussed in the WTO, the OECD and the G20.
The resolution refers to the discussion held at the OECD/WTO and requests the European Commission and the EU Member States to take an “ambitious EU position” in the upcoming negotiations about a fair mechanism for a global digital tax. The current practices of tax evasion and tax avoidance by large digital groups must come to an end.
The European Parliament regrets that no uniform position of all EU members has yet been reached and calls on the EU to speak with one voice in the future. In this context, the European Parliament encourages the European Commission to explore how a single position can be developed in the negotiations without requiring a unanimous vote of the European Council. It reminds of the European Commission’s proposals for a “Roadmap to qualified majority voting” of 15 January 2019.
The European Parliament calls on the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to propose an independent EU solution for the digital tax, in case no international agreement has been reached by the end of 2020.
France had pushed ahead with a national digital tax in 2019, which led to fierce resentment and threats of sanctions from the USA. In the margins of the G7 summit in Biarritz, presidents Macron and Trump agreed to withdraw the French digital tax and the US sanctions threats if international agreement was reached within the OECD and the G20. In the meantime, Italy and several non-European countries have also announced their intention to introduce a national digital tax. The finance ministers of France and the USA, Bruno Le Maire and Steven Mnuchin, plan to meet on the sidelines of the Davos World Economic Forum in January 2020 to discuss how to proceed.