• Europe needs to refit rules to be on `right side of history'
  • EU Commission VP says U.S., EU companies face same tax rules

European Union nations favor opening up to companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. that take advantage of sharing-economy practices, EU Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said.

“Once we get new innovations, like Uber-type of business innovations, we have to be ready to refit our old regulatory environment,” Katainen told reporters on Thursday in Washington, where he held talks with lawmakers, Obama administration officials and the International Monetary Fund.

Even though some countries have tightened rules to make it harder for collaborative technology companies to get a foothold, economic ministers from the "overwhelming majority" of the EU’s 28 nations were "strongly in favor" of adapting to the new business models, Katainen said. He said he "would expect that there are more countries who want to be on the right side of the history in the future."

Uber, Airbnb Inc. and TaskRabbit Inc. last month spearheaded a 47-company push for the EU to welcome new business models so they aren’t restricted by piecemeal national laws. The U.S. firms called on EU leaders to strengthen their commitment to the sector as a way to boost jobs and growth as the bloc seeks to jumpstart cross-border investment.

Level Field

Katainen, whose portfolio includes a broad range of efforts to boost the EU’s single market, said the EU is seeing more demand for rule changes that make it easier to do businesses across borders within the bloc. He also said the EU doesn’t use its tax laws to discriminate against U.S. firms.

“There is nothing against American companies” in the EU’s recent move to open investigations into whether some countries’ tax breaks are illegal state aid, Katainen said. “Our role is very much to look after the level playing field.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew wrote the EU Commission last month with concerns that the tax probes are unfairly targeting U.S. companies such as Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and McDonald’s Corp. The EU has so far insisted it’s trying to enforce the rules fairly, without regard to where companies are based.

Greek Reforms

Katainen said he didn’t discuss Greece with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde during this week’s meetings. The IMF and the European Commission have been at loggerheads about how to proceed with the review of Greece’s bailout program.

“We have seen some positive development in Greece,” Katainen said. “The government has pushed forward important reforms.”

The EU still hopes to finish talks with the U.S. on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership this year, Katainen said. “Honestly, we have not been thinking what will happen when there is a different president,” he said. U.S. elections are in November.

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