Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner for competition, is due to speak today at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, one of the world’s largest annual technology conferences.
Vestager, who has made cracking down on the dominance of technology giants Apple, Google, and Amazon a priority over the past couple of years, will address Web Summit attendees this morning.
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Her talk — called Clearing the path for innovation — will focus on her role in curbing anti-competitive behaviour across European markets.
Vestager told the Financial Times:
We want free markets but we understand the paradox of free markets which is that sometimes we have to intervene. We have to believe that it’s not the law of the jungle but the law of democracy that works.
The motives that are breaching competition law are as old as Adam and Eve. It’s about greed. Fear. And when you combine that with power you get a very poisonous cocktail.
Just last month, the European Commission’s competition watchdog under Vestager ordered Amazon to pay €250m in back taxes to Luxembourg where the company benefits from illegal state aid.
Amazon operates the hub for its European operations in Luxembourg.
Meanwhile, last August, Vestager ordered Apple to pay a record $15.2bn in back taxes to Ireland.
“Member states cannot give tax benefits to selected companies — this is illegal under EU state aid rules,” she said after the commission’s three-year investigation into Apple’s complex tax dealings had come to a close.
Speaking at the Wired Live event in London last week, Vestager expressed concerns that it was taking too long for Ireland to collect the $15.2bn worth of back taxes from Apple.
We can’t just sit and wait. We have to do something. In order to restore a level playing field the recovery has to take place. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
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Paddy Cosgrave, a co-founder of Web Summit, told Reuters that he supports Vestager’s drive to root out unfair competition:
In economic terms these [companies] would appear to fall into a classic definition of monopolies. And if she [Vestager] is successful she will probably set the standard for the rest of the world and will usher in a fundamental change in how the largest and most profitable companies in the history of the world are treated. This changes the playing field for all other companies.