June 24, 2024

Bits Blog: Eric Schmidt of Google to Meet With British Prime Minister

Given the grilling that Google has gotten this week in Parliament, you might think that Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of the company, would be persona non grata in London these days.

Not so, it appears. Mr. Schmidt is one of 16 high-level corporate executives who have been invited to meet with Prime Minister David Cameron next week. They are members of the Business Advisory Group, which regularly gathers at Mr. Cameron’s office to bat around economic issues.

While the talks are private, it is a safe bet that nobody at No. 10 Downing Street will call Mr. Schmidt “devious,” “unethical” or “evil” – at least not to his face. Those are just some of the terms that Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, used to describe Google during hearings this week on the strategies that multinational companies employ to minimize their taxes.

Ms. Hodge and other lawmakers are upset that Google paid only £6 million in corporate taxes in Britain in 2011, despite generating more than £3 billion in revenue there. Google, which reduces its tax bill in Britain and other European countries by routing sales via Ireland, where corporate taxes are lower, insists that the practice is perfectly legal.

A Downing Street official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said taxation would indeed be included in the discussions of the Business Advisory Group on Monday, which will focus on preparations for the Group of 8 summit meeting next month in Northern Ireland. “Nothing is off the table,” this person said.

“The prime minister has made it very clear that having strong international standards to make sure that global companies, like anyone else, pay the taxes they owe is a priority for the G-8 summit,” Mr. Cameron’s office said in a statement.

In addition to Mr. Schmidt, the advisory group includes prominent chief executives like Vittorio Colao of Vodafone, Tom Enders of EADS and Angela Ahrendts of Burberry. It has been meeting quarterly for more than two years.

One person familiar with Mr. Schmidt’s agenda said he planned to be in London for a number of events next week and would attend the meeting of the advisory group. Mr. Schmidt sits on the council in a “private capacity,” not as an official Google representative, this person added.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/eric-schmidt-of-google-to-meet-with-british-prime-minister/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Britain Suffers as a Bystander to Europe’s Crisis

There is looming recognition at 10 Downing Street that if the euro falls, Britain will sink along with everyone else. But if Europe manages to pull itself together by forging closer unity among the 17 countries that use the euro, then Britain faces being ever more marginalized in decisions on the Continent.

Many Europeans have been irritated by British Conservatives’ quiet satisfaction throughout the crisis with the decision not to join the euro (the United Kingdom ostentatiously kept its currency, the pound), particularly when juxtaposed with the panic over Britain’s inability to have any significant impact on Europe’s biggest crisis since the end of the cold war.

“Germany is the unquestioned leader of Europe,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform. “France is definitely subordinate to Germany, and Britain has less influence than at any time I can recall.”

Of particular concern here is the health of Britain’s financial industry, a vital economic engine at a time of slowing growth and deep cuts in government spending, which is seen to be vulnerable to new European regulations that could hurt British competitiveness in global markets.

Despite all that is at stake, Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government looks doomed to be cast in the role of impotent bystander, torn between anti-Europe forces and European leaders’ moves toward greater fiscal integration on the Continent — with or without Britain.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cameron told a fractious Parliament that his main goal in Brussels was to “seek safeguards for Britain” and “protect our own national interest” by resisting measures like a proposed financial transaction tax. But such Britain-centric rhetoric has annoyed the brokers of Europe’s future, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who are trying to find a way to save the euro while imposing legally binding fiscal discipline on the Continent’s floundering southern economies.

They have not been shy about expressing their frustration. Just six weeks ago, after Mr. Cameron tried to inject himself into talks about the euro, Mr. Sarkozy said bluntly, “You have lost a good opportunity to shut up.” He later added: “We are sick of you criticizing us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro and now you want to interfere in our meetings.”

Steven Fielding, director of the Center for British Politics at the University of Nottingham, said: “Cameron might sound off to look good to his backbenchers, but in Europe, he hasn’t got much to negotiate with. It’s been made clear that France and Germany can do whatever the hell they like and Britain can say yes or no, but it doesn’t matter, since they’ll do it anyway.”

The paradox of this is that plans for tighter integration among the 17 euro zone countries are at the same time destined to create greater divisions within Europe — divisions between countries that use the euro and those that do not, and divisions within the euro zone itself, depending on the health and importance of the various economies. A two-, three-, four- and even five-tier Europe could possibly emerge.

“The markets have defined who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, and their interest rates are in many ways the manifestation of this,” said Alexander Stubb, Finland’s minister for European affairs. “When we look at future E.U. rules, it is the triple-A countries that are running the show.”

The political price of Britain’s self-proclaimed exceptionalism was made clear with a vengeance to Mr. Cameron on Wednesday, when he was pounded from all sides in a raucous session in the House of Commons. Fractious Europe-hating Conservative backbenchers called for him to stand firm on Europe, to “show bulldog spirit,” in a “resolute and uncompromising defense of British national interests,” as one legislator, Andrew Rosindell, put it.

Trying to placate them, the prime minister pledged not to sign anything that did not contain “British safeguards.”

Sarah Lyall reported from London, and Stephen Castle from Brussels.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d44afd029ea6c0e7d4790cc64b1bc24f

In Retreat, Murdoch Drops TV Takeover

The withdrawal from the bid for complete control of British Sky Broadcasting, also known as BSkyB, represented the most severe damage inflicted so far on Mr. Murdoch’s corporate ambitions by the scandal. Only a week ago, Mr. Murdoch hoped to contain the damage by shutting down his 168-year-old tabloid, The News of the World, which had admitted to ordering the hacking of the voice mail of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl abducted and murdered in 2002.

Since then, virtually every day has brought dizzying new disclosure and developments, culminating in News Corporation’s announcement on Wednesday.

In a statement, Chase Carey, the company’s deputy chairman, president and chief operating officer, said, “We believed that the proposed acquisition of BSkyB by News Corporation would benefit both companies but it has become clear that it is too difficult to progress in this climate.”

As the announcement was made, Prime Minister David Cameron was meeting with Milly Dowler’s parents at 10 Downing Street.

After the meeting, the Dowlers’ lawyer, Mark Lewis, spoke for them to a media throng on the street outside. He said that after what had been “an earth shattering week for everybody,” the family was pleased with the withdrawal of the BSkyB takeover bid because it demonstrated that “however big an organization is,” it could be held to account in a society under law.

It was unclear whether the withdrawal would mute the outcry against Mr. Murdoch’s operations in Britain. Within minutes of News Corporation’s announcement, politicians from the Labour opposition and the Liberal Democrat junior coalition partner said competition authorities should investigate whether to challenge the Murdoch family’s existing 39 percent stake in BSkyB.

Ofcom, the media regulator, said it would continue its scrutiny of BSkyB’s ownership structure.

According to British law, News Corporation would be allowed to make another bid for the BSkyB shares it does not already own in six months. Some analysts said another bid is indeed likely, but that the company would probably have to wait until all investigations into the phone hacking and bribery allegations were completed, a process that is expected to take far longer than six months.

As the announcement was made, the chief lawyer for News International, the British subsidiary of the News Corporation, confirmed reports that he was quitting after 26 years with the company. Officials at the firm said that the lawyer, Tom Crone, had been chiefly responsible for clearing controversial stories published in The News of the World and another paper in the Murdoch stable, The Sun. His resignation made him the first senior executive of News International to quit in the scandal.

In Washington, Senator Jay D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he had asked officials to investigate whether any News Corporation entities in the United States had employed illegal methods in their news gathering operations.

The Daily Mirror newspaper had reported that journalists had sought to secure phone data concerning Sept. 11 victims from a private investigator in the United States.

“The reported hacking by News Corporation newspapers against a range of individuals — including children — is offensive and a serious breach of journalistic ethics,” he said in a statement. “This raises serious questions about whether the company has broken U.S. law.

The senator voiced particular concern for the victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families. If the phone hacking did extend to them, he said, “the consequences will be severe.”

Only hours before News Corporation’s announcement, Mr. Cameron made what amounted with his final break with Mr. Murdoch by joining in the common front in Parliament in urging him to drop the bid for BSkyB, reversing his previous support. The announcement came just before Parliament was set to approve the cross-party call for Mr. Murdoch to abandon his long-cherished desire to take full control of the lucrative satellite broadcaster — a deal regarded as the cornerstone of his strategy for corporate expansion.

Mr. Cameron said Murdoch executives should “stop the business of mergers and get on with cleaning the stables.”

John F. Burns reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Ravi Somaiya and Julia Werdigier from London.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/14/world/europe/14hacking.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Former Aide to Cameron Is Arrested in Tabloid Scandal

For Mr. Cameron, the day’s events took an ominous turn that suggested he may be embroiled in the scandal for months, or even years, as he struggles on a broader front to make historic cuts in public spending, his government’s primary goal.

He announced plans for two public inquiries, one to investigate the phone hacking and the police failure to effectively investigate it over the past five years, and another into the “culture, practices and ethics” of British newspapers. But as he did, his former media chief at 10 Downing Street, Andy Coulson, previously the editor of The News of the World, the Murdoch paper at the heart of the scandal, was arrested for police questioning.

The day brought further bad news for the Murdoch empire, with the head of the government agency that regulates broadcast media, Ofcom, writing to John Whittingdale, chairman of the parliamentary committee that monitors media matters, to say that the agency intended to review Rupert Murdoch’s proposed $12 billion bid for outright ownership of British Sky Broadcasting.

The deal requires government approval, including whether the company’s executives are “fit and proper” ethically as well as financially to own one of the country’s most powerful media companies. Reflecting criticism that the Cameron government, and Ofcom, have taken too accommodating a view of the Murdoch bid, the agency signaled that it might be prepared, after reviewing the phone hacking scandal, to veto the bid.

The letter said that Ofcom was “very conscious of the level of concern” in the country about the News of the World misdeeds.

The 43-year-old prime minister, in office just a year, appeared to time his remarks at a news conference on Friday in an effort to steal the headlines from the arrest of Mr. Coulson and a former News of the World reporter, Clive Goodman, who has already served a jail term for his role in the paper’s hacking of the royal family’s cellphones. But he could not overcome a series of shocking disclosures, including a report in The Guardian that police were investigating reports that an executive with News International, the British arm of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation, had tried to delete millions of e-mails from a News of the World archive “in an attempt to obstruct Scotland Yard’s inquiry into the affair.”

Later, Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, told reporters and editors at The News of the World’s headquarters on Friday that the criminal investigation would lead to “a very dark day for this company” and help explain why Murdoch executives decided Thursday to shut the paper down after 168 years as one of Britain’s leading newspapers.

Ms. Brooks, editor of the paper when its employees hacked the cellphone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old who was abducted and murdered — something she has said she knew nothing about — again rejected demands that she resign, a step that Mr. Cameron, reticent on the matter until Friday, had urged at his new conference.

Ms. Brooks, a friend of Mr. Cameron’s, enraged many of those attending The News of the World meeting, according to some of those who attended, by appearing to equate her plight — still employed, but an object of withering public censure — with those of the paper’s employees who will lose their jobs after it publishes its last edition on Sunday. “This is not exactly the best of times in my life,” she said. “I feel exactly the same as you.”

Ms. Brooks’s discomfort paralleled that of Mr. Cameron. For the second time in three days, after a raucous melee in the House of Commons on Wednesday, he sought to cast himself at his news conference as the man to rescue Britain from a scandal that he described as “simply disgusting” — allegations that The News of the World, Britain’s most widely read Sunday paper, hacked into the voice mail messages not just of Milly Dowler, but of relatives who lost family members in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and others who lost loved ones in the July 2005 terrorist bombings on London’s transit system.

Facing the biggest crisis to hit a British leader since Tony Blair defied public opinion and carried Britain into the Iraq war, Mr. Cameron answered critics — in his own Conservative Party, as well as the Labour opposition — who have questioned his judgment, and even his honesty, in hiring Mr. Coulson to work on his personal staff only months after the former media chief had been forced to resign in the first round of scandal over phone hacking at The News of the World, in 2007. His principal defense was that he acted in the belief that the former editor deserved “a second chance” after his demise at the tabloid, when he told police that he had no knowledge of the tabloid’s phone hacking.

John F. Burns reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Sarah Lyall, Jo Becker, Julia Werdigier and Ravi Somaiya from London; Tim Arango from Baghdad; and Jeremy Peters and Brian Stelter from New York.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 8, 2011

An earlier version of this article omitted the given name and title of Ed Miliband.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4c7bd7038c55d181dbe8c3932ef13458