Margrethe Vestager. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Margrethe Vestager. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

Brussels — Margrethe Vestager promised a clampdown on big tech as she kicked off her European parliament audition for a job that will equip her with greater weaponry to take on the Silicon Valley giants.

The Dane is expected to win the backing of legislators, who must sign off on her bid to become a vice-president of the European Commission from November 1, tasked with making “a Europe fit for the digital age”. She’ll combine that job overseeing technology policy with her current role as the EU’s powerful antitrust chief.

Vestager told reporters she would have to prove independence as an antitrust enforcer in the “everyday ways of working” with “checks and balances to make sure that every case that we open, that we investigate, that we decide upon is based on the evidence of the case, the facts and the case law”.

She was responding to criticism of her proposed dual role from the Christian Democratic group, the parliament’s biggest.

Dutch legislator Esther de Lange said in a statement from the group that there is a “clear incompatibility” and that it is impossible to “strengthen antitrust efforts and fine tech giants and, at the same time, count on Google or Apple’s co-operation for a digital industrial strategy”.

Set new limits

The comments were a rare negative on a day when many parliamentarians applauded Vestager after a question-and-answer session that cemented her candidature as one of incoming commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s top picks.

Her five-year term will focus on digital services rules to set new liability and safety limits for internet platforms, she said.

She will also propose artificial intelligence (AI) rules within her first 100 days in the job to make sure the technology “is used ethically, to support human decisions and not undermine them”. Europe is “in a hurry” with the AI strategy that will try to tackle bias and avoid cementing existing inequalities, she said.

EU officials are weighing ways to help gig economy workers with a potential antitrust exemption that might allow them discuss prices as they organise to push for better pay from internet platforms, she told legislators.

She is also pushing on with a campaign on corporate taxation with a new sweep on tax rulings issued by European governments, she said.

Sharing data

“We may also need to regulate the way that companies collect and use and share data so it benefits the whole of our society,” she said in prepared remarks for the start of the hearing, in another warning that she may set more curbs on how internet firms gather valuable information.

Her new job’s extra firepower adds to her already hefty role as antitrust enforcer, in which she has unusual autonomy to take decisions without giving in to political pressure.

She has overseen a huge back-tax bill for Apple, billions of euros in fines for Google and a veto for a prized French-German rail deal.

Bloomberg