Europe’s competition chief said Silicon Valley tech giants should fear breaking the rules

European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, and Wired journalist Rowland Manthorpe. Wired Live/Leon Csernohlavek
  • The European Commissioner for Competition warned Silicon Valley to follow the rules or suffer the consequences.
  • She insisted she does not have a bias against the US.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, said on Thursday that Silicon Valley tech giants should fear not playing by the rules.

Speaking at the Wired Live conference in London, Vestager said companies should be “afraid not to do the right thing, which is to play by the rule book.”

Vestager has handed out huge fines worth billions of dollars to companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon in the last 18 months for matters relating to unpaid taxes and unfair competition.

Apple was told to pay Ireland €13 billion (£11.6 billion) in unpaid taxes last August, for example, while Google was ordered to pay €2.4 billion (£2.1 billion) in June for promoting its Google Shopping results above similar comparison results from rivals. The Apple back taxes are yet to be reclaimed by the Irish government but the Google bill has been settled, Vestager said.

Apple CEO Tim Cook called the decision to force the Irish government to pay the back taxes “total political crap” but Vestager argued that her cases are based on facts. When asked how the Commission reached the €13 billion Apple figure, Vestager said: “If it’s a very big company and if you pay very little in taxes then the unpaid taxes amount to something.”

Vestager strongly denied that she had a bias against the US and insisted she is a tech optimist as opposed to a tech pessimist. On Trump, she said: “I don’t look at his Tweets. I’ve had to have a detox.”

When asked if Europe has any plans to try and split up tech giants into smaller companies, she replied: “It is very far reaching to split up a company. I think that it would be quicker and for many reasons also better to say we expect a behaviour that allows companies to complete on their merits with and against you instead of splitting up companies.”