France and the Netherlands have issued a joint paper in support of efforts by the European Union to clamp down on tech giants, including those based in the U.S., in the interests of competition.
A position paper signed by the French digital minister, Cedric O, and Mona Keijzer, the Netherlands’ state secretary for digital affairs, has called on EU regulators to take quick action to curb the dominant monopolistic power of large tech companies – including the option of breaking them up.
The move comes as the EU is preparing a comprehensive plan on regulating online platforms, especially those of large U.S. tech companies.
Among other measures, the O-Keijzer paper suggests that companies like Facebook and Apple should be compelled to allow their users to move their private data to a competing platform; and entirely prohibit companies such as Alphabet (GOOG) unit Google from promoting their own services over those of smaller rivals.
“Breaking up big companies can be a possibility,” Keijzer said.
O concurred, adding: “Breaking up [companies]is on the table. But this is the ultimate remedy.”
The Financial Times reported that a joint report by France and Holland is of significance since these countries have typically held opposing views on the regulation of the global tech industry.
Paris, FT noted, has pushed for “stringent laws against everything from illegal content to strict data protection measures,” while The Hague has “historically taken a more liberal approach.”
“France and the Netherlands have different cultures and come from different positions,” said O. “But we have a common interest, from a sovereignty point of view, from a competition point of view to regulate tech players.”
Senior officials at the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, have made similar warnings about breaking up big tech.
France’s EU commissioner Thierry Breton has warned U.S. tech companies to shape up (by adhering to European standards) or else.
“We are clear about what we need and they’d better anticipate [it]before [EU] law is put into place,” he told Wired. “I am asking [U.S. tech] to do things that are feasible. I tell them that if they want to keep on doing business in the European Union, it’s up to them to adapt, not me.”
Breton himself served as France’s economy and finance minister and once led France Telecom.
The EU also wants to force big tech companies to pay their fair share of taxes, accusing them of dodging such payments over the years. However, the EU recently lost a court ruling in a huge tax case involving Apple and EU member Ireland.
In that case, allegations were raised that the government of Ireland provided unfair tax breaks to Apple. Initially, in 2016, the European Commission ordered Apple to cough up 13 billion euros ($15 billion) in back taxes that it claimed it owed to the Dublin government covering the period 2004-14. But the court ruled that the EU did not prove that Apple took advantage of Ireland’s tax laws.
The EU will appeal the latest court ruling.