Last Friday, President Barack Obama sat down with Re/code co-executive editor Kara Swisher to talk about cyber warfare, cyber security, and other tech topics.
One answer in particular is stirring up angry sentiment across the pond in Europe. When Swisher asked Obama about Europe's investigations into Google and Facebook, he accused Europe of protectionism:
In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially-driven than anything else. As I've said, there are some countries like Germany, given its history with the Stasi, that are very sensitive to these issues. But sometimes their vendors--their service providers who, you know, can't compete with ours--are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively there.
We have owned the Internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it in ways that they can’t compete. And often times what is portrayed as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is just designed to carve out some of their commercial interests.
Many in the EU were not happy with the answer. One European Commission spokesperson told the Financial Times that Obama's point--that Europe's regulations are there to protect European companies--was "out of line."
Ramon Tremosa, a Catalan member of the European Parliament told the Financial Times that the EU's position isn't based solely on self-interest.
"President Obama forgets or maybe isn't aware that among the dozens of complainants in the Google antitrust case, there are several US companies. Some companies, like Yelp, have no problem going public. Others don't want to attack Google openly because they fear retaliation measures, such as demotion/exclusion and penalties supposedly applied by Google to some rival companies," Tremosa said.
In recent years, the European Union has targeted Google, among other US tech giants, in numerous cases. The EU is currently in the middle of a four-year anti-trust case against Google and, in November, the European Parliament passed a resolution suggesting the break up or unbundling of Google. As of May last year, Google has had to comply with Europe's "right to be forgotten," allowing citizens to have personal details removed from the search engine.