France defends European tech giant tax, says its not an attack on US but hits Trump on tariffs

The U.S. should not see a proposed European levy on internet giants as an attack against the country, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told CNBC on Saturday — but took the opportunity to chide America on its trade war.

A European Commission proposal would impose a 3 percent tax on big companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, who derive a big chunk of their revenues from within the continent.

On Saturday, the French minister suggested that it was in fact America that had launched an attack on Europe, by adopting a more aggressive trade policy that targets European imports with tariffs.

“I had the impression that we are not the ones who attacked the United States,” Le Maire told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick. “When you are looking at the trade situation, I have the impression that this is the United States that has decided to put tariffs on European goods, not the contrary.”

He added: “I would like to also underline that fair taxation is not taxation against the United States. The purpose of that taxation is to have a fair and efficient taxation at an international level.”

Le Maire, alongside German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, said in a statement on Saturday that he would propose a “sunset clause” to the planned EU tax on the digital turnover of big companies, in a bid to reach compromise with other European countries.

The clause would mean the new tax on tech giants would be phased out once a further deal is met on an international level.

France’s Le Maire explained that the proposed EU tax would target European firms as well, not just US corporate entities.

“There will be European companies included in the scope of the taxation,” he said, adding that he envisioned a theoretical “European Google” and a “European Facebook” to arrive in the continent that would also be subject to the new levy.

The EU has long been critical of tech giants for paying too little in tax, with a 250 million euro ($289 million) fine being dished out at Amazon last year over alleged “illegal tax benefits.” Ironically, President Donald Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Amazon for similar reasons.

“You have internet giants which do not pay the same level of taxation as our own SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises),” Le Maire told reporters during a press conference. “We can no longer accept to have our SMEs paying 40 points more of taxation than Google, Amazon or Facebook.”

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