Altmaier argues against ‘international monopolies’ in the platform economy

German Minister of Economy and Energy Peter Altmaier. [EPA-EFE/FILIP SINGER]

A “well-regulated” platform economy should allow for small and medium-sized enterprises to compete fairly and should not lead to the formation of “international monopolies”, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Tuesday (7 July).

Speaking to members of the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee about the German EU Presidency’s priorities over the next six months, Altmaier pitched competition law as the best solution to guarding against market monopolisation, and he also registered his support for ex-ante controls in the area.

“The platform economy for consumers, if it’s well regulated, has great potential value-added in terms of transparency in decision making…but it can only work if it doesn’t lead to international monopolies on the part of individual, large companies,” Altmaier said.

“It’s important that in Europe we consider and reflect on how we provide our companies with the possibility to be successful in the platform economy.”

Altmaier added that in the context of “reducing our dependence on American monopolies”, the EU should control the takeover of startups more strongly in the future, in addition to putting in place ‘ex-ante’ controls that help to foster digital competitiveness.

His comments come as the European Commission is mulling over feedback issued as part of a series of public consultations on how the future platform economy could be regulated.

In terms of the upcoming Digital Services Act, one consultation examines the possibility of establishing ex-ante rules to ensure that markets characterised by large platforms are able to remain fair, open and contestable to small players and market entrants.

Moreover, consultations have also been launched on a ‘new competition tool‘ that would aim to prevent the tipping of markets in the digital economy, while also examining the need for ex-ante regulation of digital platforms, particularly those that play a ‘gatekeeper’ role for smaller businesses that rely on the everyday use of such platforms for their products and services.

And it is these smaller businesses that are at the forefront of Altmaier’s concerns.

“We’re seeing a big success of SMEs within Europe, and it’s a success that many of these hidden champions are here in Europe. But on the global markets, there are individual areas in which companies have to be extremely large, to actually be able to compete for contracts.”

Gaia-X

One way in which European companies can be encouraged to become more competitive, Altmaier believes, is by leveraging industrial data flows as part of the EU’s data strategy, which the Commission presented earlier this year.

Proposals put forward by the EU executive in February include the creation of nine common EU data spaces across sectors including healthcare, agriculture and energy, as well as the establishment of a Data Act in 2021, that could “foster business-to-government data sharing for the public interest.”

Last Friday (3 July), the Commission opened up public consultations on the governance of common European data spaces.

In addition, the Franco-German Gaia-X cloud services infrastructure project, which Altmaier called in June the “starting point of a European data ecosystem“, aims to allow the bloc to compete with US cloud providers.

The initiative will allow for interoperable data exchange between a range of sectors, at all times abiding by EU data protection standards.

On Tuesday, Altmaier described Gaia-X as a “sovereign European data infrastructure” that will offer European businesses the advantage of “having their data kept in line with high European standards both in terms of data protection and interoperability, as well as the migration capacity of data, the availability of data, and the storage of data.”

ePrivacy

However, on the other side of the policy debate, the German Presidency is set to take the reins of the divisive ePrivacy negotiations, which has been held up by member states for more than three years.

The new rules as part of the ePrivacy Regulation, which aims to update the 2002 ePrivacy directive, would see tech companies that offer messaging and email services subjected to the same privacy rules as telecommunications providers.

Various obstacles that have arisen over recent years include issues over device tracking, data retention for law enforcement purposes, and cookie regulation.

A document was recently circulated by the German Presidency to national delegations on Monday (6 July), detailing how the Germans hope to agree on a common negotiating position between all member states

The German Presidency, however, also notes that a key condition is finding common ground on “Articles 6 to 6d and for the protection of end-users’ terminal equipment information in Article 8.”

Discussions with member states will take place as part of the first telecoms council Working Party on 13 July.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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