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Europeans Dismiss President Obama’s Remarks About Protectionism

European officials are not amused by President Obama's remarks about why they're focused on U.S. tech giants.

Vjeran Pavic

European officials responded to comments made last week by President Obama questioning the motivation of European regulators’ scrutiny of U.S. Web giants, saying all companies need to “play by the same rules.”

During an interview with Re/code’s Kara Swisher, President Obama suggested the European Commission’s focus on large U.S. tech firms, including a years-long antitrust investigation of Google and ongoing tax probes of several companies, is motivated by protectionism.

“In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else,” Obama said in the interview with Swisher*.

European reaction to the president’s remarks were first reported by the Financial Times, which quoted a European Commission spokesperson saying, “this point — that regulations are only there to shelter our companies — is out of line.”

In response to a request for comment from Re/code, a European Commission spokeswoman offered a more measured response by email:

“Our role is to ensure that companies which are doing business on our continent play by the same rules. We need to protect our citizens. At the same time, we want to encourage companies — being European or not — to develop, invest and make the most out of a market of 500 million potential customers. Uniform rules — rather than a patchwork of 28 different regimes — are a market opener. The Single Market with over 500 million potential customers is a golden opportunity.

This is why we are now working hard to create a Digital Single Market, to break down borders and to create a fair level playing field where all companies offering their goods or services in the EU are subject to the same data protection and consumer rules. This will guarantee legal certainty and will be positive for both the EU and its partners.”

The White House press office did not immediately respond with comment on the European response to the president’s remarks.

* Kara Swisher is married to but separated from Megan Smith, chief technology officer for the Obama Administration. See her ethics statement here.

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