Vestager’s EuroBillions

The most impressive thing about Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s Apple-fine is not the Billions of Euros, but the optimism. The idea that the law should apply also to those companies who have grown used to being above it. Global companies employ lots of people and their investments can mean much for the local economy, so governments try to make sweet deals to attract them. There is a mismatch as a global actor can play out different local governments against one another. Nothing new here, this has often been the case in the history of transnational businesses. But today’s digital behemoths add an extra layer to this cake. Not only can they play the “freedom-to-do-business”-card, but also the “freedom-of-information”-card. Plus, as “innovation” looks to have become an end unto itself, don’t be surprised if that’s the next line of defense. Vestager’s move may be questioned on many grounds (international tax law, member state tax sovereignty, investment protection), but no one can deny that it shows great faith of what government institutions can accomplish. However, there is no shortage of EU-policy going the other direction, the Digital Single Market-vision may look like an extension of that fundamental European idea of a single market, but to “unlock digital opportunities” is also a keyword for “letting Silicon Valley skyscrapers disrupt European businesses”. No, I’m not protectionist, I just think free trade needs a set of rules. Vestager is trying to bring some to bear, but I’m afraid the Google-dragon in Netopia’s cartoon is also an Apple-dragon.


Interestingly, the San Francisco Chronicle commented:

Only Apple could successfully avoid billions of dollars in taxes over a decade and still win sympathy

Even on its home turf, it seems the sympathy could be with Apple’s nemesis.