Big Tech faces "V" for Vestager
Many powerpoint presentations by lawyers on antitrust compliance are larded with the hefty fines and sanctions that the European Commission has imposed over the years on big tech companies that it found playing fast and loose with competition rules. From IBM (2011 binding commitments) over Microsoft (561 million EUR fine in 2013) to Google (4.34 billion EUR fine
in 2018 and 1.49 billion EUR in 2019), the European antitrust watchdog has made a case in point of tracking down and penalising market disruption by the captains of industry that lead the dance in the digital age.
Nevertheless, said captains have shrugged off this consistent scrutiny all too easily. Or at least that is the prevailing perception in the Brussels office of Margrethe Vestager, who continues the chase relentlessly - most recently with two new probes into that other tech giant - Apple.
And Vestager is looking for some new ammo to lead the charge. Earlier this month, the European Commission said it wants feedback on “a possible new competition tool” to tackle structural competition problems “in a timely and effective manner.”
“There are certain structural risks for competition, such as tipping markets, which are not addressed by the current rules.” - Marghrete Vesager, DG Competition
With this proposed new antitrust enforcement toolbox, the European Commission is indeed actively vying for new and extended powers of investigation, as well as important additions to its retaliatory regime, which may include M&A measures breaking up tech companies "as a last resort" if it is deemed required to safeguard competition.
The new tools that the Commission propose are the latest move in a longer line of initiatives by the Vestager administration to become the bane of those among the big tech powerful who have ambitions to abuse their growing market power. If they make it into EU Law, we may expect a hot winter in Silicon Valley.