Margrethe Vestager, competition commissioner of the European Commission, speaks during the BPI France forum in Paris, France. (Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg)

EU’s Vestager Unfazed by U.S. Giants When They Play by the Rules

(Bloomberg) -- EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said she’s not opposed to U.S. monopolies in Europe and doesn’t see the breaking up of large businesses as a solution to anti-competitive behavior.

Speaking at the Wired Live event in London on Thursday, she also expressed concern that Ireland’s collection of the record 13 billion euros ($15.2 billion) of back taxes from Apple Inc. was taking too long.

“We can’t just sit and wait,” Vestager said. “We have to do something. In order to restore a level playing field the recovery has to take place. Hopefully sooner rather than later.”

In October, the European Commission referred Ireland to the European Court of Justice for failing to recoup the Apple bill, which both the U.S. company and Ireland have appealed. The EU delivered the bill last year, saying Ireland had given Apple special deals that had reduced its effective corporate tax rate.

The U.S. Treasury at the time described the EU as making itself a "supra-national tax authority" that could threaten global tax reform efforts, and critics of Vestager have accused her office of unfair bias against American companies -- something she has denied.

"We don’t have a conflict with the U.S.,” she said Thursday. “I take it very seriously when people say we have a U.S. bias.”

Google, Amazon

Apple is not alone though. Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are the latest companies to be hit with unfavorable decisions by the commissioner. In October, the e-commerce retailer was told to repay 250 million euros plus interest in back taxes, and in June the search giant was fined 2.4 billion euros over how it organizes its shopping comparison results in Europe. It has since made tweaks.

But Vestager insisted she did not want to prevent large companies doing enormous business in Europe, and growing their market share on the continent. “You are welcome to grow in Europe,” she said. “We’re not opposed to monopolies. But you can’t misuse your powers.”

She also said she was opposed to splitting up large companies. “I think that it is quicker and in many ways better that we expect a behavior that allows companies to compete on their merits, with or against you, rather than splitting up a company,” she said.

Asked on whether she follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s activities, she said she “doesn’t see much of him, but a lot of the satire.”

“I was following the U.S. election campaign with an interest like I’ve never followed anything before,” she said, “but I had to detox because I have a day job. It’s much better because if the news is important, it will reach you.”

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