Margrethe Vestager has warned that Big Tech companies will face a flurry of countries passing laws to curb their power if they do not support the EU’s approach to regulation.
Ms Vestager, who is both the EU’s competition chief and its head of digital policy, said it was in the interests of the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon to work with Brussels if they want to avoid “a completely fragmented European legal system”.
The EU has recently put forward proposals for new legislation that will span the bloc — the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act — designed to create a fairer playing field and make online platforms more responsible for the content posted on them.
Senior officials in Brussels want to “move quickly” to enact the new rules, after a year in which the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift online.
Some hope that the legislation can be in place in 18 months if the rules can avoid the years of wrangling that have beset other recent pieces of tech regulation.
But EU officials are also concerned that some member states are taking unilateral action because of political pressure to rein in the tech giants.
“We are worried that countries are rushing to legislation and will seek to delay the negotiations so they can establish the rules of the game ahead of the commission,” said one person involved in the process.
France, Germany, Denmark and Austria have all moved to pass national laws, and Hungary is reportedly also considering introducing its own rules.
Big Tech lobbyists have said these efforts will undermine the EU’s attempts to have a single set of pan European rules. But Ms Vestager said she saw the national efforts as “encouragement”.
“I think that is really a very strong argument to say to the platforms: ‘Well, you either have this or you would have a completely fragmented European legal system.’”
She added: “The French and the German and actually a number of other member states, they are pushing this for exactly the same reasons as we are pushing this.
“[EU legislation] may be strict, it may put a lot of obligations and a number of restrictions on what they can do, but at least it has pan-European scale.”
She said regulators had taken a long time to rein in Big Tech because officials were initially in awe of the companies.
“Until quite recently, we were basically very impressed. These giants have also brought a number of very important innovations to our digital economy. They have enabled a small trader to do ecommerce. They enable us to find things on the internet.
“It has taken some time because we needed the wake-up call of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, of the different antitrust cases, to see that this is systemic.”
Margrethe Vestager spoke to the FT in an interview for the FT News Briefing podcast, which is available here.