July 18, 2024
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Booking chief considers leaving EU over ‘dumb’ regulations

Booking chief considers leaving EU over ‘dumb’ regulations

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Booking Holdings has refused to rule out leaving the EU over “dumb” regulatory burdens that its chief executive says are putting the online travel group at a “competitive disadvantage”.

Glenn Fogel attacked new EU digital rules that have forced it to allow hotel companies to offer lower prices on their own websites than on Booking.com, the US group’s Amsterdam-based subsidiary.

“If regulations are not smart regulations then you’re at a competitive disadvantage,” he said during the Financial Times’ TNW tech conference in the Netherlands on Thursday. “I believe in giving customers the best prices. Any regulation that prohibits us (from doing that), I consider that to be a dumb regulation.”

Asked whether he was considering moving the $135bn company’s headquarters out of the EU because of his concerns over the bloc’s growing scrutiny of tech groups, Fogel said: “I never say no to anything that is possible.”

The threat follows a series of regulatory setbacks for the company in the EU, with the bloc seeking to challenge the market dominance of the world’s biggest tech companies through new legislation and a series of antitrust actions.

Booking last month became the first Europe-based company to be designated an “online gatekeeper” under the EU’s landmark Digital Markets Act (DMA), which imposes additional burdens on the company such as forcing it to avoid promoting its own services ahead of rivals.

Fogel, who runs Booking Holdings as well as its biggest subsidiary Booking.com, expressed concerns that the platform was being hit at both national and EU levels. Spain’s antitrust watchdog in February imposed a provisional €486mn fine against Booking over alleged anti-competitive behaviour.

Last year, regulators in Brussels blocked Booking’s €1.63bn acquisition of Sweden’s Etraveli Group following concerns that it would damage competition. Booking is appealing against the decision in the EU courts in Luxembourg. However, Brussels’ decision was at odds with the UK’s previous approval of the deal.

Fogel’s attack on EU regulators comes as they prepare to use their new powers under the DMA to tackle the biggest US tech companies.

In the coming weeks, European competition watchdogs are expected to charge Apple for allegedly stifling competition on its mobile app store. The EU is also considering taking action against Google parent Alphabet for favouring its own app store and Facebook owner Meta’s use of personal data for advertising.

Fogel said: “We were born here. We were born in the Netherlands. We have a great shop here. But I urge (the EU) to preserve this. We need Brussels and the member states to think very hard. How do we create a climate to make sure Europe is a leader in technology?”

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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