How do you see the landscape for American tech companies in Europe?
It’s hard to generalize about American tech companies in Europe. But what I can say is that many have been through to see me. And the vast majority of those companies have expressed a high degree of support for the digital single market initiative launched recently, which now has to be accompanied by further details.
I would not agree that premise that somehow the American tech community here feel targeted. Some company may feel that – those, for example, who have been the subject of competition cases. But as a government, we feel comfortable that EU competition law has withstood the test of time, and has been applied in a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory way.
We have to be mindful here at the mission that American companies are on both sides of the equation – both as defendants and as complainants. So typically it would not be appropriate for us to express an opinion in that kind of case because there is no clear U.S. interest at stake.
On the European Commission’s new Digital Single Market initiative.
The president did express some concerns when he was recently in Silicon Valley, and to be clear, one of the reasons we are following the Digital Single Market so closely is that we do have questions about how it may evolve. Again, what we’ve seen of that initiative is very positive. But there are some areas where we do have questions, including what the regulation of online platforms might look like. We will be following with interest, for example, geo-blocking proposals. Again, those are in evolution. We will be following with interest the whole issue of copyright forum, the liability of Internet service provider and a few other areas.
Do American companies understand what they’re getting into in Europe?
Again, it’s very hard to generalize, but I think we’ve come a long way. I look back to the GE-Honeywell case. I had just started at GE after a career in Brussels, and I remember thinking to myself that GE, during the Honeywell merger discussions, didn’t always handle them in the best possible way. I think if you look at the back to the recent Alstom-GE discussions, they’ve gone about it in a much different way, in a much more discrete manner, and the result reflects that and is different. So I think many companies have become much more sophisticated in the way they handle the [European] Commission, both in merger filings and in other cases.
What advice would you give to a visiting U.S. business delegation?
On competition, I think it’s a special area. You know, the competition policy directorate here has a special status. It is especially powerful, and very competent, with a lot of experience. There, facts and the law matter. I think that American companies have learned that treating competition cases as political cases usually doesn’t work.
How has the fallout from the Snowden revelations affected your agenda?
When I arrived, I was worried that it was going to monopolize all of my time here. It hasn’t played out that way for a number of reasons. One of them is what the Russians have been doing in Ukraine. That has pushed the data privacy to the back pages from the front pages. But I think just as significant[ly], we’ve actually done a lot together with the EU to address the concerns. One of the things I repeat when I meet members of the Commission and members of Parliament is that data privacy concerns are not just European concerns, they’re also American concerns. It’s not a “you versus us” issue.
How do you view the recent protests in Europe against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?
That’s a very tough question. Let me start with the positives. We have been making progress. That simple fact is obscured sometimes by what you mentioned: street demonstrations in and around Europe. But we have advanced texts in quite a few areas. … So things have happened, but there’s no hiding the fact that we are behind schedule. We think we can get this deal done still. We’re going to fight for it.
It’s absolutely true in a number of member states there’s been skepticism. Why? At its root the problem has been a fear in some parts of the population of globalization, as if this agreement were sort of a vote in favor of globalization. Our argument is that globalization is a fact of life, it’s going to happen whether you like it or not. This agreement, like all FTAs, is a way to shape globalization as opposed to being shaped by it. We point to a lot of the trade agreements in Asia that don’t contain all of the standards on labor and the environment and so forth and we tell our critics – don’t you want to take this opportunity?
Who’s behind the opposition?
That’s a tough question. I think a lot of it is grass roots; I’m certainly not trivializing it. I think there is also skepticism about projects by big governments and there might be some anti-Americanism behind it, but don’t want to put too much of an emphasis on that.
And here I want to say something that has not always gone down well but I’ll say it: We have called on the NGO community to be clear in terms of who they speak for and who finances them, because today in Europe it’s not clear.
Who do you think is funding them?
It could be a range of parities. But those NGOs have been particularly vocal about transparency in those negotiations, and we have taken those criticisms to heart, we’ve improved the transparency to a level that we’d argue has not been matched by any free trade agreement in history, and we’re simply saying transparency is a two-way street what’s good for us is also good for you.
Is Russia behind the opposition?
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that, but what we do know is that the Kremlin hates this deal. That’s fact. Just go onto the website of Russia Today and it’s full of misinformation about this deal for a lot of reasons. Because it would make Europe stronger. It would make the transatlantic bond stronger, and for that reason they want to spread misinformation. We’re big promoters of civil society – we’re different from the Russians. The Russians are fearful of civil society; we promote civil society. We want a debate but we want a fact based debate. But what has been extraordinary about TTIP – extraordinary – is that it has been sometime a fact-free debate. … It has triggered a degree of debate that I think took all of us by surprise.