Margrethe Vestagers vast new powers
Silicon Valleys tormentor-in-chief is back — stronger than ever.
Danish politician Margrethe Vestager on Tuesday was appointed the European Commissions executive vice president for digital, as well as the regions ongoing competition chief.
After five years of high-profile investigations and fines against Google, Facebook and Apple, her promotion acknowledges that Vestager has become one of Europes best-known and most powerful politicians, drawing praise as well as criticism including from Donald Trump, who has accused her of hating the United States.
The role is certain to put her back on a collision course with Silicon Valleys most powerful tech companies, whose executives are already fretting about the prospect of dealing with a competition enforcer who also has the power to direct Europes broader policy agenda on the digital front.
Having demanded billions of euros in fines from Big Tech, Vestager will now be in charge of revamping how the European Union regulates the digital world, with the dual objective of shoring up the blocs tech credentials while grappling with digital giants that are now branching into new industries, from financial services to the automotive sector.
“Like a footballer who gets to play in the World Cup for the first time, we find that the rules of the game are no different — but suddenly, the stakes are much higher” — Margrethe Vestager
Along with her existing work as competition enforcer, the Dane will also be in charge of supervising overarching cybersecurity, industrial and big data policies, as well as coordinating Europes position on the taxation of digital companies, according to the European Commission.
“We have to improve on cybersecurity. We have to work hard on technological sovereignty,” Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission president-elect, told reporters on Tuesday. “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.”
Vestagers appointment sends a signal that the EU now wants to coordinate, or even merge, regulatory powers to bring previously distinct areas like competition and data protection under a single supervisor.
As Facebook moves into financial services with Libra, its digital currency, and Google branches out from search into hardware, the effort comes as part of worldwide push by agencies in Europe, the United States and elsewhere to figure out how to deal with tech companies that do not neatly fit into traditional categories of regulatory oversight established by policymakers.
The task of figuring out how to do that in the European Union now falls to Vestager.
But while she accumulates new powers, her expanded role also is an acknowledgment that the current system has failed.
A small number digital giants remain the de facto digital gatekeepers for how Europeans and people around the world use online services. And despite years of investigations — many of them led by Vestagers own team — Google continues to dominate online search, Facebook remains the worlds largest social network and Amazon continues to expand its online empire. Few, if any, have real global competitors.
Vestager will now have to limit such tech dominance while also pushing Europe to be at the forefront of digital regulation at a time when the United States and several countries in Asia are starting to review their approach to regulation with an eye to joining up industrial policy, competition and consumer protection.
“We have to update our regulation,” said José van Dijck, a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “We have compartmentalized our society within different legal frameworks. But thats not how these companies operate.”
Executive vice president, Europe fit for the digital age
Under her new roles as both Commission executive vice president for digital and competition chief, she will have unprecedented power to direct how Europe tackles the dominance of Big Tech, promotes local players and sets rules for artificial intelligence and the use of big data.
Vestager will be tasked with making the region “fit for the digital age,” a wide-ranging responsibility that mirrors the current Commissions priority to bolster Europes technological prowess — an area where the bloc falls behind China and the United States and where rivalries among member states have often made it difficult for Europe to speak with one voice.
“The stakes today are high,” Vestager told an audience in Norway earlier this month. “Like a footballer who gets to play in the World Cup for the first time, we find that the rules of the game are no different — but suddenly, the stakes are much higher.”
The Commissions new tactics dont come without risks.
Vestager has been given new powers to tap into the EUs legions of bureaucrats in Brussels to both inform and set legislation. This access to her own staff and resources, including the blocs powerful and well-resourced competition authority, means that Vestager will have more power to direct policy than vice presidents in the previous Commission.
“The task is to make a sufficiently strong team among commissioners to make sure we can make things happen.” — Margrethe Vestager
But the Danish politician is also walking into a political minefield.
As she takes up new roles overseeing digital and industrial policy, she faces questions about possible conflicts of interest because she will both be enforcing and setting the EUsRead More – Source