Danish politician, Margrethe Vestager, who has been behind several tough enforcement decisions in the EU against the tech behemoths, was reappointed for a second five-year term as European Competition Commissioner on Tuesday.
With this unprecedented second-time appointment, Margrethe Vestager will also be taking up the “Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age” role. In this role, she will be responsible for overseeing the EU’s digital innovation and leadership efforts, including artificial intelligence.
Margrethe Vestager’s appointment was announced by the incoming European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen as she revealed her new team of commissioners. She said in a press conference, “Margrethe Vestager will coordinate the whole agenda and be the commissioner for competition. She will work together with the internal market, innovation and youth, transport, health, and justice.”
Margrethe Vestager has been a driving force behind several major steps taken by the EU against the tech industry’s abuse of market power, underpayment of corporate taxes, and violations of user privacy.
She was instrumental in making Google pay a settlement of €8.25 billion ($9.1 billion) for its non-competitive practices in the advertising market that it dominates, in antitrust cases regarding its online shopping service, its Android software and Adsense ad service. She ordered Apple to pay back up to €13 billion ($15 billion) in taxes to Ireland saying, “Tax rulings that artificially reduce a company’s tax burden are not in line with EU state aid rules.”
In July this year, the EU fined US chipmaker Qualcomm $271 million for selling its 3G baseband chipsets below the cost of production to force startup Icera out of the market almost a decade ago. She has also opened a formal investigation against Amazon to find out whether it is using data from independent retailers to gain an unfair advantage over third-party merchants.
Margrethe Verstager’s efforts may have also inspired the US authorities who recently opened several antitrust investigations against tech giants. On Tuesday, Texas state attorney general, Ken Paxton and a gathering of attorneys general said that they are opening an antitrust investigation against Google that will focus on its advertising practices.
Margrethe Verstager’s responsibilities in the new role
A number of priorities are listed in the President’s mission letter to Margrethe Vestager. She will be responsible for formulating a new long-term strategy for Europe’s industrial future. She will ensure that “cross-fertilisation between civil, defence and space industries” is improved. The president has also asked her to coordinate work on a European approach to AI, within the first 100 days of her appointment.
The priorities set with regards to Margrethe Vestager’s Competition Commissioner mandate are quite broad. Her tasks will include strengthening competition enforcement in all sectors, coming up with tools and policies to better tackle the market abuse by big companies, sharing any relevant market knowledge within the Commission, especially regarding the digital sector.
In a statement, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), an international non-profit advocacy organization with members including Google, Facebook and Amazon, responded, “We encourage the new Commissioners to assess the impact of all the recent EU tech regulation to ensure that future legislation will be evidence-based, proportionate and beneficial.”
The 27 commissioners that Ursula von der Leyen has appointed includes 13 women and 14 men from every EU member state except the UK. They will take up their mandates on 1st November after the approval of the EU parliament.