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UK cannot ‘cherry pick’ parts of single market, EU commissioner says

The U.K. cannot "cherry pick" the parts of the single market it wants to keep when it quits the European Union, the EU's vice-president for the euro and social dialogue told CNBC on Saturday.

"It is really for the U.K. to decide. It comes with conditions with respect for freedoms and with respect for EU rules and regulations. There cannot be cherry picking and the European Commission has been very clear about it," Valdis Dombrovskis told CNBC, speaking from the sidelines of Italy's Ambrosetti forum on economics.

He said the discussion was premature. "(The) U.K. really needs to make some strategic decisions on its future relations with the EU – mainly (regarding whether to be) within or outside the (EU) internal market. Negotiations have not even started yet because (the) U.K. hasn't filed formally," Dombrovskis told CNBC.

He said the U.K.'s decision regarding this would provide some clarity to the financial sector, particularly with regard to so-called passporting rights. At present, EU passporting rights mean U.K. businesses can provide financial services anywhere in the 28-country bloc while being based and regulated in the U.K.

"Of course within the internal market it is simpler, because there are passporting rights. If it is outside the internal market it means more far reaching changes for the financial markets," Dombrovskis told CNBC.


A man clears away leaves outside buildings on The Apple campus in Cork, southern Ireland.
Paul Faith | AFP | Getty Images
A man clears away leaves outside buildings on The Apple campus in Cork, southern Ireland.

In addition, Dombrovskis said the EU's ruling that Apple must pay back taxes to Ireland was directed at Ireland, as a member of the EU, rather than the U.S. technology giant. Last week, the European Commission (the executive arm of the EU) ordered the Irish government to recover up to 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) — plus interest — in back taxes from Apple. The commission concluded that Ireland granted undue tax benefits to Apple, which is illegal under EU state aid rules, allowing Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1 per cent on its European profits in 2003 and only 0.005 per cent by 2014.

"What the EU commission was doing was not questioning the tax policy of the member state, but the question is, (if a) member state provides selective benefits to specific companies, it can constitute state aid," Dombrovskis told CNBC.

The commission is still investigating Amazon and McDonald's European tax affairs, EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager told reporters last week, according to Reuters.

Dombrovskis took over the EU Commission's financial regulation brief on July 15, after the resignation of Jonathan Hill in the aftermath of the U.K.'s vote to leave the EU. Dombrovksis is also a former prime minister of Latvia.

Dombrovksis told CNBC he aimed to continue Hill's agenda.

"My approach since taking over from Lord Hill is one of continuity; (we) will continue to accelerate capital markets union," he told CNBC.