op_vestager1_ Alexandros MichailidisPoolAnadolu Agency via Getty Images_margrethevestager Alexandros Michailidis/Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Europe’s Digital Future

In recent years, the European Union has unveiled a series of ambitious legislative and regulatory packages to rein in problems endemic to the new digital economy. Can leading the world in tech governance help to establish Europe's place in the twenty-first century?

Recently, Anu Bradford, a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of The Brussels Effect: How the European Union Rules the World, sat down with European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, one of the European Union’s leading regulatory and economic-policy minds, to discuss key developments and trends in the digital economy. From privacy protection and antitrust action to online speech regulation and innovation policy, what happens in Europe’s digital economy will have profound and far-reaching implications for the rest of the world in the years ahead.

Anu Bradford: Most of the Big Tech companies have been in the news lately. Let’s start with Apple. The European Commission recently issued a statement saying that the company has abused its dominant position in the music streaming industry. This is one of several competition cases that you have brought against big American tech companies, including Google and Amazon.

What, exactly, is your main concern with how Big Tech operates? Consumers love and depend on these companies’ products, after all, and that reliance has grown during the pandemic. What is the concrete harm that an individual consumer experiences, and what would a more competitive marketplace look like?

Margrethe Vestager: A competitive marketplace, first of all, is an open marketplace where someone who wants to invest and innovate can do so. Recall the EU’s first action against Google in 2010, over its Google Shopping service. In that case, there was little reason for a new market entrant to invest in its own shopping-comparison technology, because the services being provided never would have reached customers, owing to Google’s control of search. The reference point for our policy is to embrace technology and innovation so that customers actually get more out of it.

This is one reason why we have called in the cavalry with the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which the European Commission proposed this past December. We need to prevent what led to the Google Shopping case from happening again.