Digital Brief: The return of the Digital Tax

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“As allies, we must resolve our differences by means other than threats.”

-French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, Thursday 11 July.

 

Digital Tax. French Parliamentarians voted today to approve plans that would see a 3% levy imposed on any digital company with revenues of more than €750 million, with €25m of that figure being generated in France. The green light came after some heavy pressure from US counterparts who attempted to sway the French.

On Wednesday,  President Trump ordered a Section 301 investigation into the measures, to decipher whether the tax would be discriminatory. If this would be the case, the US may look to impose extra tariffs or even trade restrictions on France.

Speaking ahead of the vote, France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire pushed back against the US pressure, saying that “as allies, we must resolve our differences by means other than threats. France is a sovereign state. It alone decides on its tax provisions.”

French hate speech. Meanwhile, the French also hit the headlines earlier this week, after they adopted tough legislation against online hate speech, requiring digital platforms to delete within 24 hours messages that are “manifestly unlawful on grounds of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability”. La République en marche’s Laetitia Avia said that “what is not tolerated on the street must no longer be tolerated on the Internet.”

Simson meets Juncker. Back in May as part of EURACTIV’s Estonian Edition of the Digital Brief, we broke the news that ex-Minister of Economic Affairs, Kadri Simson, was favourite to become Estonia’s next Commissioner. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas sent a letter to the Finnish Presidency of the Council to officially put Simson forward.

Today, Simson met outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EURACITV understands that the two discussed her potential start date in the Commission, after Estonia’s previous Commissioner, Andrus Ansip, left to become an MEP.

Next week in Strasbourg, Simson will deliver a speech to MEPs before Parliament ratifies a date for her to officially take over Ansip’s digital portfolio, leading up to the official delegation of Commission portfolios in November.

Parliament Chairs and Vice-Chairs. Back in Brussels and this week Chairs and Vice-Chairs of European Parliamentary committees have been elected. Of the relevant committees in the field of digital affairs, the results are as follows:

 

Legal Affairs (JURI)

 

Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO)

 

Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE)

 

Civil Liberties (LIBE)

Something missing in LIBE? Yes, you’d be right. After an attempt by Hungary’s Fidesz party to obtain a vice-chair seat was blocked, the election of the third Vice-Chair was postponed to a later meeting.

 

Culture and Education (CULT)

Another attempt by Fidesz to obtain a Vice-Chair seat in the form of EPP’s Andrea Bocskor failed to come to fruition once more, as CULT committee members agreed to postpone voting on the election of third and fourth vice-chairs until 23 July.

 

Schrems II. In Luxembourg this week, privacy activist Max Schrems’ bid to stop Facebook transferring EU personal data to the United States under standard contractual clauses was heard by a conglomerate of EU institutions, national governments and industry lobbyists. While the Irish data protection authority came under criticism for failing to adopt a position on the controversial case, the main takeaway from Tuesday’s hearing was that the ECJ Advocate General will deliver a non-binding opinion on December 12.

AI Excellence Centres. In other news, today the European Commission has launched a call to develop a European Network of Artificial Intelligence Excellence Centres, with the aim of bringing research teams in Europe together to tackle major scientific and technological challenges and making the bloc an ‘AI powerhouse.’

AirBnB Consumer Rules. Just ahead of the Summer holidays and around a year after the Commission first launched an attack on AirBnB for consumer violations in the transparency of pricing, there now seems to have been progress, with the platform having made revisions to fall in line with EU consumer standards. On Thursday, Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said that “now consumers can also trust that the price they see on the first page will be the price to pay in the end.”

Facial Recognition. Speaking of vacations, if you’re doing a lot of travelling over the break, be aware that you could be snapped a fair few times. The subject of facial recognition and video technologies came up earlier this week at the European Data Protection Board’s twelfth plenary session, with reports suggesting that EU regulators could seek to clamp down on the widespread use of the technology in the near future.  The plenary came at a timely moment: Here in Brussels this week, the Belgian Federal Police have been testing facial recognition software at Zaventem airport.

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On My Radar

Next week I’m heading to Shenzhen in China for an in-depth investigation of life at the headquarters of telecoms giant Huawei. Keep an eye out for my on-the-ground reports.

What else I’m reading this week:

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