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12 June 2020

EU digital chief Margrethe Vestager: “You need regulation to promote innovation”

A pandemic must not get in the way of responsible tech policy, Vestager told the New Statesman's Global Policy Forum.

By Oscar Williams

The European Commission’s executive vice president, Margrethe Vestager, has said that the coronavirus crisis has renewed the need for reform of the tech sector. 

Speaking at the New Statesman’s Global Policy Forum this morning, Vestager denied that the crisis had diminished the appetite for plans to rein in US tech giants.

“It’s a matter of urgency to make sure that our digital future is open,” she said. “I know from my work in competition enforcement that it’s not necessarily the case that if you’re a digital gatekeeper the rules that you can set as a giant private actor would cater for fair competition and an open market.”

[Register for our Global Policy Forum to watch this exclusive interview]

In her role as competition commissioner for the European Union Vestager has handed down billions of euros of fines to tech giants that have broken antitrust rules. 

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Vestager added: “We need both to make sure that DSPs first register in Europe, have clear obligations and there is clear enforcement so that both the countries of origin where you register, have something to enforce, and the countries of destination, trust that enforcement is actually done.”

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Previously described as a “giant slayer”, Vestager has said that fines alone are not enough to reform markets and ensure competition, but she has also signalled her disinterest in more radical action, supported by some US Democrats, to break up companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon into their constituent parts. 

Asked what sorts of measures she would prefer to see implemented in Europe, Vestager said: “It is important to have a new competition tool to step in if a market is at risk of tipping, so that new digital gatekeepers will be created.”

One useful measure, Vestager suggested, is to ban companies from using their platforms to promote their own products at the expense of their rivals. She said: “We need regulation to come in before we have illegal behaviour and to be able to say these are the rules of the game and this is what you must do if you are a certain size and characterised in a certain way.”

She added: “We need new companies to come in, disrupt the market and grow big and that’s the paradox that you need regulation to promote innovation.”

[Watch this exclusive interview as part of our Global Policy Forum]