Margrethe Vestager is back and more powerful than ever

via Flickr © FriendsofEurope (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © FriendsofEurope (CC BY 2.0)

  • The EU competition commissioner is to be given an overall digital brief
  • As well as being the commissioner for competition she will work on internal market, innovation and youth, transport, health and justice
  • Expect more big fines for FAANGs

Much to the consternation, apparently, of ‘big tech’ and ‘big telecom’ Danish politician, Margrethe Vestager, has been appointed the European Commission's executive vice president for digital, as well as the region's ongoing competition chief. A stronger role than she had before and given shape by the merging of two key areas:  the rather narrow ‘competition’ role made more nuanced by an overall responsibility for piloting EU digital strategy and regulation. 

So presumably competition decisions will no longer be made purely against likely ‘consumer harms’, as they seem to have been in the past, but will also be meshed with strategic European ‘digital’ concerns as well - two perspectives that may well be in tension. 

In other words she might be required to blunt the incursion of the US FAANGs and encourage the rise of whatever the European equivalent might be. At the same time making sure that proper competition and consumer interests are not subordinated to that end. 

That might be a stretch. But she’s proved in the past that she has the backbone to see unpopular moves through and doesn’t mind attracting high level ire when doing it. 

Her decisions to block European mobile mergers during her competition tenure and her stout defense of those decisions seemed to lead directly to changes in approach by the rest of the Commission. In late 2015, for instance, it became apparent that the policy of encouraging ‘consolidation’ of Europe’s telecoms market to make it more investor-friendly was a likely disaster - US-style monopoly here we come. 

Vestager’s decision-making seemed to help turn the policy tide on that, so that at a telco conference in London in October that year, the EU's digital commissioner, Andrus Ansip, announced that consolidation in the European telco market was "not necessarily the answer" to stimulate investment in the sector. Gasp!

Since then she’s gone on to greater things: causing the US tweeter-in-Chief, Donald Trump, to accuse her of hating the United States in the wake of her fining Google and there are sure to be more fines and regulations for aspiring monopolies who refuse to play fair and gladly pay European taxes (yes, it is possible).

According to Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission president-elect,  "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."

That’s a very broad but vital brief as players like Facebook and Google look to spread their activities into new vertical segments. But now, you sense, the gloves are off and Europe will continue to lead on privacy, unfair competition and controlling rampant information-gathering.

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