Upgrade for EU antitrust rules, more funds for digital projects

Ursula von der Leyen wearing a costume: European Parliament plenary session State of the Union in Brussels

© Reuters/POOL
European Parliament plenary session State of the Union in Brussels

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission will revise its antitrust rules early next year to keep up with global changes, and invest a fifth of its 750-billion-euro ($890 billion) COVID-19 recovery fund in digital projects, its head said on Wednesday.

Rules for billion-euro mergers and state aid to companies will be updated to ensure global companies play fairly, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, in remarks that underscore pressure from Germany and France to adopt a more defensive policy.

The bloc unveiled a new industrial strategy in March aimed at promoting green and digital industries. Von der Leyen told EU lawmakers that since then, “the last six months have only accelerated that transformation – at a time when the global competitive landscape is fundamentally changing.”

“This is why we will update our industry strategy in the first half of next year and adapt our competition framework, which should also keep pace,” she said.

The investment of 20% of the COVID-19 recovery fund into digital projects would include 8 billion euros for the next generation of supercomputers, she said.

“We want to lead the way, the European way, to the Digital Age: based on our values, our strength, our global ambitions.”

Von der Leyen repeated earlier pledges to ensure that big U.S. tech firms doing business in the bloc, such as Google and Facebook, pay their share of tax. If global negotiations fail to reach a deal on taxing tech firms, the bloc would be willing to go it alone, she said.

“We will spare no effort to reach agreement in the framework of OECD and G20. But let there be no doubt: should an agreement fall short of a fair tax system that provides long-term sustainable revenues, Europe will come forward with a proposal early next year,” she said.

The issue has become more complex after the United States pulled out of negotiations in June.

($1 = 0.8430 euros)

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Robin Emmott, Marine Strauss and Peter Graff)

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