Legislators in the European parliament have compiled a comprehensive, 167-page report on competition policy, shaming Brussels for being too slow to tame Big Tech.
The report comes as regulators in the EU seek to enact new rules to curb the power of companies such as Google and Facebook and set out clear guidance on taking down illegal content.
MEPs think the European Commission has been too slow to act on antitrust enforcement. By the time Brussels hands out fines — often seen as the cost of doing business for a company such as Amazon — it is too late to save a healthy market. “We want the commission to hurry up,” said a person involved in drafting the report.
The report is an attempt to renew political pressure on the EU to come up with tough rules for large online platforms. MEPs will play a crucial role in passing these proposed laws sometime in 2022. The report is still being discussed, and it is set to be voted on by MEPs in April. Here are some of the takeaways of the draft seen by the Financial Times:
Treat data as a physical asset MEPs want the EU to review its merger rules for personal data. The report calls on regulators “to fully consider and assess personal data assets as all other traditional physical assets when it decides on digital mergers and acquisitions”. Some believe that a change in the current regime would have led to the EU blocking Google’s acquisition of fitness-tracking company Fitbit on data concerns. The deal was cleared. “I’m puzzled why the commission approved Google’s acquisition of Fitbit,” Dutch MEP Paul Tang told the Brussels Briefing. “[Margrethe] Vestager needs to go further and strongly regulate the business model of selling personalised advertising. Together with slow developing antitrust cases, we are doomed to be eyewitness to market failures.”
Move fast EU regulators have often been accused of moving too slowly, particularly in digital markets where players can quickly take over entire sectors. MEPs note that the EU’s Google Shopping case started in November 2010. They argue the prolongation is having a “damaging effect” for litigants involved. In addition to legal cases, MEPs welcome regulation that can come handy in cases where there is suspicion of unfair competition. “Existing competition policy instruments cannot always provide for quick and efficient ex-ante detection and timely intervention, especially in antitrust cases,” they write, adding that the proposals will help with speedy responses.
Make them pay (a lot) Under current proposals, the EU wants to fine Big Tech companies 10 per cent of their global revenues if they are found to be in breach of competition rules. But MEPs think that is not enough. The report says that “even when heavy fines are imposed they are often not enough of a deterrent, also because they may be passed on to consumers”. They want Brussels “to evaluate the deterrence effect of its fines and the usefulness of fines of up to 40 per cent of the worldwide annual turnover of companies to be imposed in serious cartel cases”.
Chart du jour: out with the old, in with the renewables
This weekend’s FT Magazine feature lays out how the rise of renewables is set to upset the global balance of power for countries that rely on the export of fossil fuels. Many Middle East countries are set to see their influence decline under the green revolution, while in Europe, Russia could lose the most from the shift to renewables. (chart via FT)
Europe news round-up
Tensions are rising between the EU and UK over Northern Ireland, with EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic telling London on Thursday to focus on the “proper implementation” of the Northern Ireland protocol as Britain seeks to tweak parts of the agreement. Sefcovic will travel to London next week in a bid to quell calls for a rewriting of the protocol. (FT) The current stand-off could see the agreement unravel unless the two sides start to work together, writes Sam Lowe of the Centre for European Reform.
The Economist’s Charlemagne column dissects the structural blame game at the heart of the EU’s botched vaccine policy, and why healthy criticism of democratic flaws is often mistaken for illegitimate Europhobia.
The latest episode of the EU Scream podcast speaks to Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of How Democracies Die, about the dilemma facing mainstream conservative parties that often enable extremists to thrive in their midst.
An Iranian diplomat has been handed a 20-year prison sentence in Belgium over a 2018 plot to bomb a rally of exiled Iranians in Paris. The sentencing comes as the EU works to salvage the international nuclear deal with Tehran. (FT)
Denmark has signed up for 51 per cent stake in a 120,000 sq m “energy island” that will act as an energy hub for hundreds of offshore wind farms. The project is estimated to cost £25bn and could potentially power up to 3m households. (Guardian)
Coming up today
MEPs on the foreign affairs and trade committees present their draft report on the UK-EU trade deal. The public debate begins at 10.00 (CET).