Vestager Notes Amazon Has ‘Grown So Big’ Amid EU Probe

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The European Union’s top antitrust official said Amazon.com Inc. may be using its bulk and market power to keep competitors at bay, days after starting a probe into the company’s e-books business.

Margrethe Vestager was both admiring and wary of the world’s biggest online retailer in a speech in Paris Monday. She recently opened an investigation into whether the company is squeezing out rival e-book distributors by insisting publishers not give them better terms.

“We fear that they have grown so big that they think they can use their strength to close competition, to close the road to innovation,” Vestager said.

Since taking office in November, she has picked fights with several U.S. technology companies. She sent Google Inc. a formal antitrust complaint for shutting out rival search engines and began a clampdown on possible barriers to e-commerce and digital content, including Hollywood studios’ pay-TV deals.

The e-books probe is Amazon’s latest clash with the EU after it was embroiled in an investigation into tax loopholes for multinational corporations. Other companies involved in the tax inquiries include Apple Inc. and Starbucks Corp.

“Our agreements with publishers are legal and in the best interests of readers,” Seattle-based Amazon said in an e-mailed statement, adding that it’s cooperating with the probe.

Vestager denies she’s gunning for companies across the Atlantic. She said corporations are successful because they “give us things that we would like to have,” not because they are from the U.S.

Phone Mergers

During an earlier appearance in the French capital Monday, Vestager also focused on technology issues. She warned that she may take a tougher stance than her predecessor on a wave of mergers among telecommunications companies.

“Incumbent operators argue that if they cannot merge with their rivals in the same country they will be unable to increase their investment,” she said. “I’ve heard this claim quite often, but I have not seen evidence that this is the case.”

Several phone deals, including Telefonica SA’s 8.55 billion-euro ($9.63 billion) acquisition of Royal KPN NV’s E-Plus unit in Germany, were approved by Joaquin Almunia, who stepped down as competition commissioner in October.

“There is ample evidence that excessive consolidation may lead not only to less competition and more expensive bills for consumers, but that it also reduces the incentives in national markets to innovate,” Vestager said.

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