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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Macron to give Facebook's Zuckerberg a grilling on firm's tax in Europe

President of France to pressure Facebook chief and other US tech giants to pay more tax amid an increasingly hostile environment for the social media firms in Europe 

French President Emmanuel Macron. Ludovic Marin / Reuters
French President Emmanuel Macron. Ludovic Marin / Reuters

Fresh from saying "sorry" to European policymakers, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg holds talks with Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday where he will face renewed pressure over his company's tax policies.

Mr Zuckerberg apologised to the European Parliament on Tuesday for the "harm" caused by a huge breach of users' data and by a failure to crack down on fake news.

And in a sign of the increasingly hostile environment for the social media giant in Europe, he is likely to face another grilling in France which has led efforts in the EU to force US tech giants to pay more tax.

Facebook, along with Google, Apple and Amazon, are in the sights of Mr Macron and other EU leaders over their use of low-tax countries such as Ireland to reduce their corporate tax rate to nominal levels.

Mr Macron "is looking to start a dialogue" with tech bosses "to have discussions that will sometimes be frank and direct, to talk about regulation and international governance", an aide said.

Mr Zuckerberg has been invited along with around 60 other tech bosses including Microsoft's Satya Nadella, Uber's Dara Khosrowshahi, IBM's Ginni Rometty, SAP's Bill McDermott and Jimmy Wales from Wikimedia.

As well as talking tax regulation and the battle against fake news, which Mr Macron has also vowed to tackle, the 40-year-old French president will be keen to stress his pro-business credentials at the "Tech for Good" summit.

The former investment banker is desperate to attract more foreign investment to France and has vowed to turn the country into a "start-up nation".

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During a brief break from politics in 2014, he travelled to California on a research trip ahead of the launch of his own start-up, which he had planned in the online learning sector.

He abandoned the idea when given an opportunity to enter the then-Socialist government, but since taking power as president last May he has consistently championed the sector - while insisting multinationals must pay tax.

Many of the companies attending are expected to make announcements to underline their commitment to corporate social responsibility, with some initiatives focused on Africa, French presidential aides say.

After their talks at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday, the tech bosses are set to attend workshops to discuss the future of work in the afternoon and the meeting will be concluded by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

Many of them will attend a separate event called VivaTech in Paris on Thursday.

Speaking in Brussels in front of European policymakers on Tuesday, Zuckerberg faced often hostile questions, with Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt asking if he wanted to be remembered as a "genius who created a digital monster".

Mr Zuckerberg said that while Facebook has brought in new features to connect people, it had become clear in the last two years that they "haven't done enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm".

"And that goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections or developers misusing people's information. We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility," he said in his opening statement.

"That was a mistake, and I'm sorry for it."

His livestreamed testimony in Brussels was the latest stop on a tour of apology for a major data breach that saw him quizzed for hours in the US Congress in April, and will take him to Paris on Wednesday.

Despite Mr Macron's efforts to push his European partners into creating a new tax system for multinational tech companies, talks have stalled due to resistance from EU members such as Ireland.

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