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House Democrats discuss tougher antitrust law, some Republicans agree

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel discussed ways to tighten antitrust laws on Thursday, with two Republicans on the Democrat-dominated panel indicating potential support for some changes.

The antitrust subcommittee, chaired by Representative David Cicilline, is expected to release a much-anticipated report into the four big tech companies — Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O>, Facebook Inc <FB.O>, Apple <APPL.O> and Alphabet’s Google <GOOGL.O> — as soon as Monday.

In the hearing, Cicilline said the tech companies used strategies such as self-preferencing and predatory pricing to grow. “These once-scrappy, underdog startups have grown into the kinds of monopolies we last saw more than a century ago,” he said.

One witness, Bill Baer, who headed the Justice Department Antitrust Division during the Obama administration, argued to the committee that successive court rulings over the years have made it harder to block a merger.

“If courts are unwilling to step back from this overreach, legislation may well be needed to re-set the boundaries,” he said.

Representative Ken Buck, a Republican, appeared swayed by calls for tougher antitrust law, including giving more funding to the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission.

“We also need to seriously consider increasing scrutiny on big tech companies, including shifting the burden of proof required for a market dominant company to prove that a merger is not anti-competitive,” he said.

Representative Kelly Armstrong, a Republican, said he agreed with Buck on the need for “more money, more resources, (and) more enforcement.” He indicated he would be interested in discussing “tweaks” to antitrust law.

Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, repeated his concern that Big Tech firms were “out to get conservatives.”

The Justice Department is also probing the big four tech platforms, and is expected to file a lawsuit against Google next week.

Facebook and Amazon also face inquiries by the FTC, while U.S. state attorneys general are looking at Facebook and Google.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose; editing by Richard Pullin)

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7 Parties Agree on Belgian Government Led by Liberal De Croo | World News

By RAF CASERT, Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) — Almost 500 days after Belgian parliamentary elections, seven parties from both sides of the linguistic aisle agreed early Wednesday on forming a fully functioning majority government under new Prime Minister Alexander De Croo that will center on dealing with the pandemic and its devastating economic impact.

A final negotiating session that lasted almost 24 hours found agreement on a common budget that could unite the seven parties, consisting of Liberals, Socialists and Greens, divided into separate linguistic entities, and the Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats.

“It is the starting point for a new way of doing politics, with more pragmaticism, cooperation and, especially, more respect,” De Croo said.

Led by De Croo and francophone Socialist Paul Magnette during the last days of negotiations, the parties found money to fund new initiatives like a higher minimum pension and improved public services, while hoping to contain the budgetary hemorrhaging caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The last thing was the question who would become prime minister, and since the government falls just shy of a parliamentary majority in Dutch-speaking Flanders, it was an obvious choice to pick De Croo.

“We did head or tails, and it fell for Alexander and it is an excellent choice,” Magnette said tongue-in-cheek.

Despite his age, the 44-year-old De Croo is already a veteran in Belgian politics and was vice premier in the outgoing government. He held the offices of pensions, development aid and finance over the past decade. He would be the first Dutch-speaking prime minister in nine years.

European Council President Charles Michel, a former Belgian prime minister himself, congratulated De Croo and said that “COVID-19 hit us badly, but I count on you and your government to guide us past this challenge.”

Since the May 26, 2019, elections, Belgium has been led by a caretaker government, and, for the past half year, by a minority coalition with widespread support from the opposition to deal with the pandemic, the last one led by francophone Liberal Wilmes.

The government formation has been so difficult. Beyond the linguistic strife between 6.6 million Flemings and 5 million Francophones that is a given in Belgian politics, the 2019 elections saw major advances by the far right in northern Dutch-speaking Flanders, and by the far left in southern francophone Wallonia.

It made compromise politics, an essential element of Belgian politics, even harder. De Croo acknowledged that “a lot of people are extremely skeptical.”

But he insisted the coronavirus crisis made the traditional fissures outdated. “Together we can do a lot more than alone.” The overwhelming challenge will be to deal with the pandemic, which has hit Belgium especially hard. On Wednesday, the tally for Belgium exceeded 10,000 deaths for the first time.

“A great many people face a tough time — insecurity, school closures, temporary job losses. And so many families have lost loved ones,” he said.

Because the plenary room in the Belgian parliament is too small to ensure social distancing between the 150

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7 parties agree on Belgian government led by Liberal De Croo

Almost 500 days after Belgian parliamentary elections, seven parties from both sides of the linguistic aisle on forming a fully functioning majority government under new Prime Minister Alexander De Croo

A final negotiating session that lasted almost 24 hours found agreement on a common budget that could unite the seven parties, consisting of Liberals, Socialists and Greens, divided into separate linguistic entities, and the Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats.

“It is the starting point for a new way of doing politics, with more pragmaticism, cooperation and, especially, more respect,” De Croo said.

The last thing was the question who would become prime minister, and since the government falls just shy of a parliamentary majority in Dutch-speaking Flanders, it was an obvious choice to pick De Croo.

“We did head or tails, and it fell for Alexander and it is an excellent choice,” Magnette said tongue-in-cheek.

Despite his age, the 44-year-old De Croo is already a veteran in Belgian politics and was vice premier in the outgoing government. He held the offices of pensions, development aid and finance over the past decade. He would be the first Dutch-speaking prime minister in nine years.

European Council President Charles Michel, a former Belgian prime minister himself, congratulated De Croo and said that “COVID-19 hit us badly, but I count on you and your government to guide us past this challenge.”

The government formation has been so difficult. Beyond the linguistic strife between 6.6 million Flemings and 5 million Francophones that is a given in Belgian politics, the 2019 elections saw major advances by the far right in northern Dutch-speaking Flanders, and by the far left in southern francophone Wallonia.

It made compromise politics, an essential element of Belgian politics, even harder. De Croo acknowledged that “a lot of people are extremely skeptical.”

But he insisted the coronavirus crisis made the traditional fissures outdated. “Together we can do a lot more than alone.” The overwhelming challenge will be to deal with the pandemic, which has hit Belgium especially hard. On Wednesday, the tally for Belgium exceeded 10,000 deaths

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