Bipartisan lawmakers want Biden to tell Europe to stop ‘unfairly’ targeting U.S. tech companies

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.
San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images | Hearst Newspapers | Getty Images

A bipartisan group of 30 lawmakers is urging President Joe Biden to push European leaders to alter language in their proposed Digital Markets Act so that it does not unfairly target U.S. tech companies.

In a letter sent Wednesday and shared exclusively with CNBC, the group, led by Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., and Darin LaHood, R-Ill., wrote that they “are greatly concerned that EU’s proposed approach to promoting competition among digital platforms unfairly targets American workers by deeming certain U.S. technology companies as ‘gatekeepers’ based on deliberately discriminatory and subjective thresholds.”

The letter comes as lawmakers are debating competition reforms at home that would also seek to rein in the power of the Big Tech companies. Two such bills have already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this year with bipartisan support.

The White House has so far tried to thread a thin needle on the issue of competition reform at home and abroad, recently releasing a statement to Politico that it supports “the bipartisan progress being made in Congress” but is concerned about “distinct elements” of the EU’s plans.

The Digital Markets Act was originally announced by the European Commission in 2020 to tackle issues of online competition with which regulators around the world, including in the U.S., have grappled. That includes matters like tech companies giving better placement to their own products over others’ on their own platforms.

The lawmakers behind Wednesday’s letter wrote that they share the urge to do more to protect consumers and their privacy, but argued that American tech companies are unfairly singled out in the DMA. They pointed to a Financial Times article quoting an EU lawmaker who suggested last year that American tech giants Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft were the “biggest problems” for competition policy in Europe.

The lawmakers called the DMA’s parameters “de facto discrimination.”

“As European leaders have made clear, the DMA as currently drafted is driven not by concerns regarding appropriate market share, but by a desire to restrict American companies’ access in Europe in order to prop up European companies,” they wrote.

They also expressed concern that the DMA would not seem to apply to large Chinese firms like Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. The lawmakers wrote that such companies “already operate at a competitive advantage as they are supported by the Chinese government and benefit from a protected market of over 1.3 billion consumers in China.”

“The EU agrees that we should develop joint approaches to combat China’s digital authoritarianism, surveillance regime, and human and worker rights violations,” the lawmakers wrote. “It therefore should avoid supporting companies complicit in the expansion of these harmful practices.”

Representatives for the European Commission and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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