EU must confront Trump and approve a tax on tech giants like Facebook and Apple, French finance minister says

Key Points
  • France's Finance Minister told CNBC the European Union needs to stand up to the Trump administration and approve a digital tax on tech companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.
  • A recent EU-wide effort to pass a 3 percent tax on internet companies failed as some countries feared retaliation from the U.S.
  • Le Maire said tech giants need to pay the same taxes as small businesses.
I won’t accept Google, Amazon and Facebook paying less tax than SMEs: French finance minister

The European Union needs to stand up to President Donald Trump and push through a digital tax on tech companies, France's finance minister said Thursday.

In an on-stage discussion with CNBC's Karen Tso at the Women's Forum Global Meeting in Paris, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said EU countries must overcome their differences and agree to raise taxes on tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

A recent EU-wide effort to pass a 3 percent tax on the digital revenues of big internet companies failed amid concerns by countries including Ireland and Germany who fear retaliation from the U.S.

President Trump has previously lashed out at the EU for imposing regulations on U.S. companies, like the European Commission's $5 billion antitrust fine against Google in July.

"I hope that we will be able to face Donald Trump and I hope that we will remain strong and united to face the American administration," Le Maire said.

The French minister has been an outspoken advocate of the so-called digital tax, calling it unacceptable that tech companies do not pay what he sees as their fair share.

"I will be very simple and very clear," Le Maire said. "I cannot accept to have Google, Amazon or Facebook paying less taxes…Than my butcher or my bookshop."

Some EU countries have voiced concern that a digital tax would stifle innovation and set a negative "anti-business" precedent across Europe. Meanwhile the U.K. and Spain have announced plans to proceed with their own national taxes on digital companies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the European Parliament on Tuesday a European digital tax should only proceed if broader global efforts fail. The OECD is currently working on a proposal for an international digital tax which likely won't reach a consensus among member states until 2020.

Le Maire said that's not soon enough.

"If there are some European governments that want to explain to their people that they accept to have Google, Facebook or Apple paying less taxes than the small companies and the SMEs in their countries, good luck for the next European elections," he said.

— CNBC's Silvia Amaro and Reuters contributed to this report.