On 15 December 2020, the Commission presented its Proposal on a Digital Markets Act. It is, above all, to include rules for particularly powerful and influential Internet platforms – so-called gatekeepers. The Austrian Chamber of Labour welcomes the Proposal; however, it demands urgent improvements.
According to the Commission, the Proposal, which was presented parallel to a Digital Services Act, shall prevent a number of problems, to which digital markets had been especially prone in the past. A respective act, for example, shall guarantee a level playing field, put a stop to unfair business practises by so-called gatekeepers and provide consumers with a higher level of protection. Substantial fines, which could be as high as 10 % of the respective company’s global turnover, have been planned in case of rule violations.
Gatekeepers are to be identified on the basis of a series of quantitative and qualitative criteria. Among other things, the online platforms concerned must have at least 45 million end users per month within the EU and at least 10,000 commercial users per year. However, the companies concerned can also object to being classified as gatekeepers. If "sufficiently substantiated" arguments are put forward, it could then take years before a final decision is made.
EU Parliament welcomes ambitious approach
On 11 January 2021, two representatives of the Commission appeared before the European Parliament's Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) to answer questions by MEPs concerning the presented Proposal. The majority of the delegates expressly welcomed the draft and were positively surprised by how ambitious it was. It was underlined, that during the Coronavirus crisis it had become even more apparent how urgent it was to regulate large Internet platforms. Some MEPs also ascribed a share of responsibility to online platforms regarding the violent storming of the US Capitol by supporters of former US President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021.
Despite the fundamentally positive tenor, however, there were still many questions about the Commission's proposal and calls for improvements in certain areas. Among other things, there was criticism that the proposal does not contain a provision on interoperability - i.e., on the cross-system interaction of different applications - and that the EU's competition instrument was not included.
AK sees good basis for discussion
From the Austrian Chamber of Labour’s point of view, the published Proposal presents a good basis for discussion; however, some areas need to be improved. Hence, the envisaged obligations and prohibitions for so-called "gatekeepers" are in principle an important step towards fairer competitive conditions, but still need to be fleshed out. The process of defining such gatekeepers in the envisaged form is very lengthy and should definitely be accelerated. However, a certain scope for national regulations should be maintained.
In the AK’s opinion, there is also a lack of planning to set up an efficient regulatory body, which would be necessary to monitor that rules are adhered to. Apart from that, consumer protection organisations and labour representatives shall also be included in the planned Digital Markets Advisory Committee. It is vital to address other important aspects of the digital economy such as taxation of the digital sectors or platform work as soon as possible. Here, regulations are required urgently.