European competition chief Margrethe Vestager, who had been facing the end of her term, will instead return for a another five years, with an expanded role on the new team of commissioners, according to Reuters.
Vestager has been behind much of the European Commission’s scrutiny of tech giants, and will now serve as an Executive Vice President, tasked with ensuring that Europe is “fit for the digital age,” while continuing to serve as competition chief.
The choice was announced yesterday in a draft list of choices for the 2019 to 2024 team of commissioners, by European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen. The move to expand Vestager’s power suggests that authorities will continue to step up their scrutiny of digital firms.
Vestager has held her current post as competition chief since 2014, and has drawn attention with high-profile investigations and unprecedented fines against tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook, over anti-competitive practices and tax avoidance. Under her tenure, Apple was ordered to pay €13bn in back taxes to Ireland for illegal tax deals, and Google’s parent company Alphabet was fined over €8bn for stifling competition.
But in addition to enforcing antitrust rules, Vestager will now direct broader policy moves, in areas like cybersecurity, big data policies, and taxation.
Von der Leyen told reporters on Tuesday:
“We have to improve on cybersecurity. We have to work hard on technological sovereignty. 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.”
The move may signal plans to coordinate regulation on the many disparate fronts that affect digital firms, like antirust, data protection, and taxation. This reflects conclusions by experts in recent years, that old models for regulation don’t meet the challenges posed by multifaceted, digital tech giants. Facebook has plans to create its own digital currency, Google and Amazon have branched out to sell digital hardware, all of these companies process vast quantities of personal user data, and none are facing serious competition on a global level.
“We have compartmentalized our society within different legal frameworks. But that’s not how these companies operate,” according to Utrecht University media professor José van Dijck.
Vestager will now face the difficult task of balancing calls for stringent tech regulation with the need to catch up with the US and China when it comes to innovation.
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