French Finance Minister Calls for Higher Taxes on U.S. Internet Firms

By Tom Fairless Features Dow Jones Newswires

Europe should move quickly to increase taxes for U.S. internet companies such as Amazon.com Inc. and Google, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday, in a U.S. speech that set out the new French government's policy priorities in its relations with Washington.

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Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Le Maire called for "much faster progress" in taxing internet companies, a key issue for European governments that are struggling to restore their finances. Many U.S. internet companies pay little tax in Europe despite large turnover because they can funnel profits through a low-tax jurisdiction such as Ireland or Luxembourg.

"We will be strong, we will be firm and we will change the situation," Mr. Le Maire said. Taxing companies on their turnover rather than their profits, while an imperfect solution, could be implemented relatively quickly, he said.

Since his election in May, French President Emmanuel Macron has moved quickly to advance his policy agenda, pushing through far-reaching labor-market reforms and advancing plans for tighter integration of the 19-nation eurozone.

Mr. Le Maire reiterated France's desire for closer cooperation among eurozone countries, including the creation of a common budget and finance minister.

"If we are able to go this way, we will remain in history and still be able to play a role on the international stage between China and the United States," he said.

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The minister also called for a new approach to a proposed free-trade deal between Europe and the U.S., which has been on hold since President Donald Trump's election last year.

The talks, led by the EU's executive arm, were too opaque, fueling a lack of public trust, Mr. Le Maire warned. He called for more openness, and greater involvement from national parliaments. "Negotiating behind a curtain raises a lot of concerns for the population," he said.

On Britain's decision to leave the EU, Mr. Le Maire said any discussion on the U.K.'s future relationship with the EU would have to wait until Britain had agreed to settle its financial commitments to the bloc. Those commitments could total tens of billions of dollars.

"The British government has [made] important commitments when it was still a member of Europe. They have to pay for those commitments," he said.

"First, the financial settlement, then we can think of a new situation," Mr. Le Maire said.

Write to Tom Fairless at tom.fairless@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 12, 2017 11:17 ET (15:17 GMT)