“[The] announcement on Amazon shows the desire to keep the antitrust pressure on US tech,” said Emre Peker, a director in the Europe practice of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
On digital taxes, Biden will have a chance to press reset from the early days of his presidency. Yet even then, it’s not clear that the United States and countries in Europe can come to terms. Talks brokered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris on a global digital tax regime have so far failed to produce an agreement.
“I would find it pretty interesting if all [of a] sudden the US government said, ‘Yeah, you can have some of our tax base,'” said Elke Asen, policy analyst at the Tax Foundation’s Center for Global Tax Policy.
So far, the OECD negotiations have kept a lid on tensions. But a confrontation between France and the United States could be just weeks away.
While the French government is eager to get off on the right foot with Biden, it’s not clear they’re willing to agree to another delay. The OECD now aims to hammer out a new agreement on taxes by mid-2021.
Biden’s expressed commitment to a more multilateral approach to international diplomacy, instead of weaponizing tariffs, could provide fresh momentum to the OECD discussions. But Democrats have not endorsed digital services taxes in the past — and experts warn Biden may not prove any more amenable.
“The Biden administration would be potentially as concerned about taxes that seem to be targeted at US companies as the Trump administration is,” said Brian Jenn, a former US Treasury official who served as co-chair of the OECD’s Task Force on the Digital Economy from 2017 to 2019.
Here come the regulators
It’s not the only front on which Europe is trying to hold the biggest American tech companies to account.
The European Union has emerged as a key battleground for tech because of its tough rules on data protection, hate speech and competition. And under Margrethe Vestager, now serving a second term as the European Commission’s top antitrust official, the bloc has made clear that it’s willing to confront the likes of Google and Amazon.
Because Europe doesn’t have tech companies that can compete with Silicon Valley’s big names or China’s tech champions, the region’s response is to try to exert influence through regulation, Eurasia Group’s Peker said. The thinking: Europe is a huge consumer market, so it should have a hand in setting online norms.
“Europe sees an opening,” Peker said. In his view, a change in administration in the United States won’t alter the calculus.
On issues like antitrust, there’s a consensus in Europe and the United States that more should be done to rein in Big Tech.