The EU and the challenges of the digital economy

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 by Iva Guterres, PhD student at the University of Leeds

In 1995 Don Tapscotts coined the term Digital Economy in his book, “The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence”. At the time, he was far for imagining just how the future would be dictated by the internet and technological development (then still in its infancy). In the meantime, the internet has become a huge part of the global economy.  Tapscotts’ book established the connection between the internet and the way economic models would change the way business was done and seen from there onwards.

At the beginning of the 1990s one major question rose on the legal landscape. What would the challenges be for global e-commerce and the tax rules or even global digital taxation? In 1996, David Tillinghast[i] wrote an article in which he questioned how traditional tax rules or policies would react to cross-border e-commerce.

Since then, history has witnessed radical changes in society and in the economy, which took Klaus Schwas, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, to write the book, “The fourth Industrial Revolution in 2016”.

In recent years, the EU and the OECD have been keeping an eye on business activities, especially since 2013, through the BEPS project (The Base Erosion and Profit Shifting). This was motivated by the behaviour of multinationals attempting to avoid paying tax in their home countries by taking their businesses abroad to low and no-tax jurisdictions. This generated practices and behaviors of schemes indicting aggressive fiscal planning.
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Competition, coin mining and plastic memories: why the EU should watch the Web Summit carefully


by Tiago Cabral, member of CEDU

After the overall success of the 2016 edition – with a few exceptions like the failing Wi-Fi[i]– Lisbon hosted for the second time “the largest tech conference in the world”. We are obviously referring to this year’s edition of Web Summit which brought about 60.000 attendees from more than 170 countries to the Portuguese capital. This event is obviously significant to the Portuguese economy with an investment of about 1.3 Million Euros originating an expected return of about 300 Million. But there is more to Web Summit than the number of attendees or its effect on the Portuguese economy (even if both are relevant), it offers a look into the future and the future brings a plethora of complicated legal and political challenges. Some of these challenges demand a supranational response and the EU should watch very carefully the trends coming out of Lisbon. In the following paragraphs, we shall highlight a few topics to illustrate.

1. “The Digital Single Market has become a new political and constitutional calling for the EU” and it cannot work in the absence of healthy competition. The European Commissioner for Competition’s “clearing the path for innovation” speech[ii] (7th November) – even if its content or delivery certainly did not impress us – made clear how seriously the Commission is taking this issue. American Tech Giants dominate the EU’s market and without proper competition enforcement, European companies may fall prey to anti-competitive behaviour before they have the chance to get a foothold. The speech also made a few interesting points about the growing importance of big data in competition and about trust in competition. However, it had a rather uncomfortable “Google paranoia” emanating from it. The 2.42€ billion fine against Google for breaching EU antitrust rules was historic – whether or not we agree with it –, but so were, for example, Microsoft v. Commission (2007) and the 561€ million fine against Microsoft (2013) for non-compliance with browser choice commitments. Yet, by name the Commissioner only referred to Google. There was a reference to the issue of special tax treatment, which immediately brings the controversies with Apple and Amazon[iii] to mind, but the companies were not named. Since there was no time to properly explain the details of the referred antitrust proceeding – or of the other two ongoing antitrust proceedings against Google, regarding AdSense and Android – the speech did nothing to further inform the audience on this issue and only left the feeling that there is a fixation on Google in the Commission. Interestingly, the 6th November intervention by the Commissioner where she was interviewed by Kara Swisher suffers no such issues. The interviewer asked the right questions, what companies are breaking the rules, what is the Commission’s reaction and what are the consequences. There was no singling out of a company with references to Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, no attempts to explain the complicated reasoning behind the proceedings in a few short minutes, the comparisons to the US also added value to the interview.

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Google vs. EU antitrust proceedings


by Ana Filipa Afonseca, student of the Master´s degree in EU Law of UMinho

In Portugal (and not only in Portugal), the prefix “Dr.” is usually attached to the name and confers a kind of inherent credibility to someone, as form of courtesy, sometimes for the sake of politeness even if it’s used wrongly. All over Europe, Google is referred as the most powerful search engine on the internet. Some may even address it as “Dr.”. Is it possible that we’re the main contributors for its overvaluation in the market? The fact is that Google acquired a dominant position in the market. But is this a mere case of success?

The European Commission believes that this is not the case and has accused Google of abusiving its dominant position for imposing to the device manufacturers and mobile service providers the installation of Google’s search engine by default on all the devices, through payments and exclusivity contracts.

In fact, competition between other search engine providers on the market and Google is practically nil, in accordance with the definition of a free market as one in which companies, independent of one another, operate in the same business sector and compete with each other to attract consumers. In other words, in free market each company is subject to the competitive pressure of one another. Not dispelling that the market power will always be regarded as a sort of cat and mouse game, and naturally, someone has to be the cat, that is the natural order of the market.

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