The hearings of the 1st round of the Commissioners-designate ended on October 8th 2019 in the European Parliament with the three executive Vice Presidents. In the afternoon, it was Margrethe Vestager’s turn, Commissioner-designate for Competition and also Executive Vice President-designate for a “Europe fit for the digital age”. It would be her second term in office in the European Commission.
Vestager answered questions of three committees, all of which dealing with the issues of industry, the single market and economic policy and - as she herself emphasised positively – all of which are chaired by women. In her opening statement, Vestager called for a strong and fair Europe, which would remain true to itself and would neither copy China nor the USA. Competition policy would contribute to creating a ‘level playing field’, hence, the same conditions for all. She would ensure that markets would work for people and not vice versa. She referred to the rights of consumers and made it clear that mergers would not be an offence per se, however, companies had to commit themselves to accountability. State aid should not harm effective competition, which would in return weaken the position of consumers. Vestager announced her intention to implement a new industrial strategy and a strategy for SMEs to create a fair and ‘green’ single market.
Using the potentials of digitalisation and building trust
Vestager explained both the potentials and the risks of digitalisation processes. She attributed a key role to Artificial Intelligence and described the positive effects of Artificial Intelligence, for example for healthcare services, in the transport sector or in the fight against climate change. She intends to present a coordinated approach on Artificial Intelligence after 100 days in office. However, a human and ethical design of Artificial Intelligence is crucial, which is to support the decision-making by humans. She underlined the necessity to gain people’s trust for these transformation processes.
À propos trust: on several occasions, Vestager criticised the “surveillance capitalism”, in particular driven by giants such as Google. Replying to the question whether splitting up the big players would be an option, Vestager conceded that this was an instrument among many and that less radical approaches should be prioritized. Vestager also announced her intention to advance the Digital Content and Digital Services Directive. The Dane also intends to improve the working conditions of platform workers, which is also an important concern for the AK.
Vestager’s visions for fair taxation
The issue of a digital tax and a fair global tax system was addressed on several occasions. Vestager promised to approach the digital tax at European level, if the proposal failed at G20 level. She conceded that European solutions on tax policy were difficult to achieve, but that progress had been made. Vestager clearly supported the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), which was vital for good regulation on a minimum tax rate.
Confident appearance but sometimes vague
As expected, Margrethe Vestager gave a confident appearance and can count on the support of Parliamentarians. However, with regard to the industrial strategy she remained slightly vague and missed the chance to clearly outline her plans. Apart from that, two Conservative MEPs criticised an “inherent conflict of interest” in the new role of the Liberal, who ultimately will be both Commissioner for Competition and Executive Vice President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age. Vestager assured MEPs that she was aware of this mammoth task. However, she had confidence in the collegial cooperation with other Commissioners and in the existing control mechanism within the Directorate-General for Competition.