EC's Vestager vows to continue probing Google, Apple's EU tax arrangements

The European Commission's (EC) competition commissioner said investigations into the tax arrangements of companies including Google and Apple is warranted to ensure fair levels of competition in the region's digital market.

Margrethe Vestager, EC Competition Commissioner

Margrethe Vestager vowed to press ahead with investigations of the technology companies' tax deals with individual European Union (EU) member states, stating that cheap tax deals are unnecessary in most cases and cause unease in terms of competition, Bloomberg reported.

Pressure is mounting following an EC ruling last week that the tax arrangements between Belgium and about 35 companies were illegal, Bloomberg noted. The ruling leaves Belgium's government seeking around €700 million ($762 million) in underpaid taxes, and hints that the EC will take a tough line on similar investigations involving Apple and Google.

Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Matt Larson last week estimated Apple could face a bill of $8 billion (€7.3 billion) in back taxes if the EC rules that the company's tax arrangements in Ireland breach EU tax laws, the news agency reported in a separate article.

While those reports suggested a decision in the Apple case could be afoot, Vestager hinted the EC's investigation into Google's tax arrangements still has some distance left to run.

She said the Google probe involves masses of data that must be analysed layer by layer, and that only when that analysis is complete will she be able to comment on the likely outcome, Bloomberg reported.

Vestager also announced that the EC would investigate the legality of geographical blocking techniques used in content delivery that, for example, prevent European users from accessing U.S. movies, the news agency added.

The commissioner's office is also still considering whether to allow a proposed £10.25 billion (€13.4 billion/$14.6 billion) acquisition of O2 UK by Three UK. Vestager reportedly met with Sharon White, CEO of UK regulator Ofcom, to discuss the deal last week, Bloomberg reported at the time.

EC clearance of the deal is likely to hinge on a range of tough conditions including the sale of network capacity by Three UK, the Telegraph reported adding that the EC may issue its demands this week as it moves towards a final decision on the acquisition in March.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article on Vestager
- read this related report on Apple
- view this separate Bloomberg article on the Ofcom meeting
- see this Telegraph report

Related articles:
BT to close EE deal in January after winning approval from the CMA
Ofcom CEO warns of higher prices if Three UK/O2 UK merger is cleared
Ofcom delays spectrum auction following O2/Three legal threat
CK Hutchison bullish on O2 UK merger clearance, as EC's Vestager investigates
Analysts: Telenor, TeliaSonera's Danish dilemma could impact similar deals in UK and Italy

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