Online platform regulation: French economy ministry gets up and running

French telecom companies SFR and Bouygues Telecom, which already use Huawei in their 4G networks, have filed applications with the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (Anssi) to use Huawei's 5G services again. [EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON]

While the European Commission presented its digital strategy last week, France’s economy and finance ministry brought together around a hundred experts on Monday (24 February) in an attempt to sketch out ways of regulating online platforms. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

Spurred on by the European Commission, the finance ministry has started to work on the regulation of digital platforms.

Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Secretary of State for Digital Affairs Cédric O had organised a working seminar on Monday (24 February) with around a hundred experts from various EU institutions and member states.

Among the topics up for discussion was the thorny case of “structuring” platforms at the European level, namely the major digital companies that have acquired such market power that they have become unavoidable. Without naming them, the ministry is, therefore, interested in the tech giants (American of course, but also Chinese) that dominate specific markets, like the cloud (Amazon) or online advertising (Google and Facebook).

Platform regulation 'needed' as part of Democracy Action Plan, Jourová says

Regulation on the activities of online platforms is needed to foster a digital ecosystem that can “defend and promote democracy” the EU’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said on Thursday (30 January).

The meeting aimed to “define criteria that could be used to designate these platforms, in particular by questioning the notions of ‘abuse of dominant positions’ and ‘critical infrastructures'”, according to the ministry’s press release.

“At the European level, France defends the following principle: certain digital companies have become structuring factors for our economies and should thus be subject to specific regulation. This is nothing new, as banks, especially those with a systemic impact, have had specific rules and supervision imposed on them in the past. We must now do the same thing with the giants of the internet,” Cédric O told La Tribune last week.

“This regulation can be translated in several ways: interoperability of services, regulated tariffs for access to services, specific antitrust rules, special supervision (…) We must rely on asymmetrical regulation, meaning that it focuses on the biggest players. These platforms have acquired such market power and control over their ecosystem, particularly through advertising, that they have become structuring platforms,” he added.

Vestager's grand plan for regulating the digital economy

The EU should be “ready to act” should social values such as “privacy, freedom and fairness” be under threat from expanding digital monopolies, the bloc’s Competition Chief Margrethe Vestager said on Monday (3 April).

Towards an “ex-ante” regulation of platforms?

The meeting came after the European Commission unveiled its digital agenda last week to accompany its new mandate until 2024. Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager spoke of the possibility of “ex-ante” regulation of major digital platforms [a rule designed to promote a transition from monopoly to effective competition] at a press conference in Brussels last Wednesday (19 February).

In France, an inter-ministerial team is to be formed to work on the guidelines set by the European Commission in the framework of the Digital Services Act, according to the economy ministry’s press release.

The reform intends to update the ageing e-commerce directive of 2000 and is expected to be presented for consultation from March so that it should be adopted by the end of 2020.

“In addition to the economic regulation of structuring platforms, this inter-ministerial team will be responsible for developing proposals on the accountability of platforms. This will be both in terms of the fight against hate content online, as well as in terms of consumer protection, particularly with regard to online marketplaces,” the press release added.

Digital Services Act – the opportunity for Europe to lead in the platform economy

The European institutions are gearing up for the revision of the eCommerce Directive. We must aim for a legitimate digital economy framework that encourages all actors to play fairly and to comply with EU standards, to protect consumers and safeguard trust in the digital environment.

Edited by Samuel Stolton

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