Technology

Vestager makes her pitch as Europes digital champion

She came. She saw. She conquered.

In a more-than-three-hour-long hearing Tuesday, Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition chief, batted away questions from lawmakers about the role of U.S. tech companies in peoples lives, the need to overhaul taxation rules for the online world, and how Europe could better compete with its global rivals.

“My pledge is not to make Europe like China or like America,” the Danish politician said in her opening remarks. “My pledge is to make Europe more like itself.”

Shortly after the hearing ended, MEPs announced that shed won backing from the European Parliaments industry, internal market and economic affairs committees.

“All the [political] groups except [the far-right Identity and Democracy] supported her,” tweeted MEP Christel Schaldemose, coordinator of the internal market committee for the Socialists & Democrats group and a fellow Dane. Two officials from the European Peoples Party confirmed the information to POLITICO.

“One thing I have learned from surveillance capitalism is that its not you searching Google, but Google searching you” — Margrethe Vestager, during her hearing

Defining what Vestager meant by her Europe pledge is at the heart of her new mandate — one that combines her existing role as the Commissions top antitrust enforcer with a wide-ranging position as executive vice president for digital affairs. The second part of her remit grants her authority over several commissioners and covers everything from devising new artificial intelligence rules to helping local startups expand beyond the 28-country bloc.

In an assured performance, the Dane outlined her priorities for the next five years.

Much of her emphasis was on the need to revamp global taxation rules and rein in dominant tech companies — though Vestager stopped short of endorsing calls to break up digital giants.

“We have that tool in our toolbox,” Vestager said, in reference to the Commissions powers to break up companies on competition grounds. “But this is very far-reaching, very intrusive.”

Vestager has built a reputation as someone unafraid to tangle with Big Tech | Denis Charlet/AFP via Getty Images

Other nominees for the incoming Commission, most notably Sylvie Goulard, the French politician slated to be in charge of the EUs internal market, have faced tough questioning from MEPs. Goulard faces a further hearing or even a vote against her nomination due to concerns about an ongoing legal probe in France and a lucrative consulting contract.

But the Dane — known globally for her multibillion-euro fines and other penalties against Google and Apple — received a much warmer welcome, to the point that she was congratulated by some lawmakers for her efforts to rein in Big Tech.

Despite the almost lap-of-honor feel to the parliamentary hearing, Vestager faces tough choices when she takes office in November.

The thorniest challenge has to do with her dual role as the EUs competition czar and cheerleader-in-chief for Europes digital economy.

She acknowledged the challenge of reconciling the two functions in her answers. But she did not detail how she would juggle the conflicting mandates to protect European consumers from market abuses while also helping local firms compete on the global stage.

During the lengthy hearing in Brussels, however, Vestager went further than ever before in outlining what she viewed were Europes advantages in the online world.

“Some say China has all the data, and the U.S. has all the money. But in Europe, we have purpose” — Margrethe Vestager, during her hearing

She also underscored where more legislation or enforcement would be needed to rein in digital giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon.

With data becoming the lifeblood of the digital economy, Vestager said that European citizens must be given greater choice in how such information is used, adding that she would continue looking at competition cases that involved the potential monopolization of digital information.

More than once, she referred to so-called surveillance capitalism, in which online companies harvest reams of individuals data, often with little oversight from either regulators or consumers.

“One thing I have learned from surveillance capitalism is that its not you searching Google, but Google searching you,” she told MEPs. “We need to regulate how companies collect, store and use data so it helps society.”

Vestager also pushed Europes claim to set the rules of the road for the global digital economy, namely as regards artificial intelligence and onRead More – Source

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