Austria defends Russia while targeting Trump, Facebook and Amazon

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VIENNA, Austria – Austria is keen to provide reliable energy and will continue to promote the Russia-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, despite the United States’ negative stance on the matter, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

On Wednesday, Kurz was greeted by US President Donald Trump at the White House.

[Trump] clearly said that the United States is against this project, we are aware of this, we support this project because we are interested in reliable sources of energy for Austria. Finally, there is some kind of agreement on this project in Europe and we will further promote this project,” Kurz said in an interview with Austrian broadcaster ORF.

“Buying gas from the United States would not be a problem for us. But since the price of Russia is better than that of the United States, Russia is more attractive to us as a partner in this matter. We believe that, as a former businessman, Trump can understand that we have different interests here,” said the chancellor.

Nord Stream 2 is a joint venture between the Russian gas giant Gazprom and five European companies. The goal is to provide 55 billion cubic meters (1.9 trillion cubic feet) of Russian natural gas annually to the European Union.

The gas pipeline project has been well received by some European countries and contradicted by others raising concerns about the alleged danger of Europe’s dependence on Russia and the subsequent diminished role of gas transit across Ukraine.

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Earlier with Austria, the Austrian government will introduce a 3-percent tax on international tech giants with an annual turnover exceeding 750 million euros ($864 million), Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said last month.

“Europe currently does not have taxation of digital Internet giants and Austria intends to become a pioneer in this regard… This important step seeks to ensure a greater tax justice. It relates to measures combating the deceit of tax authorities by the use of Internet delivery and also relates to measures in tourism dealing with such platforms as Airbnb [accommodation rental service],” Kurz said.

Under the existing plan, Austria will collect taxes from tech giants whose revenues in Austria total at least 10 million euros. The tax will be targeting the companies’ revenues from online ads.

It is planned that the so-called digital tax, which is expected to affect such companies as Amazon and Facebook, will bring about 200 million euros to Austria’s state budget.

Many countries have accused major digital companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google of tax evasion by funneling their profits made in Europe to countries with low taxation — for example, Ireland and Luxembourg. The European countries have recently been discussing the introduction of an international digital revenue levy, which will tackle the issue of tax avoidance of big technology firms. The discussion was initiated by Austria which presided over the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2018.

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