‘New competition tool’ to feature in digital services act, Vestager says 

File photo. European Commission Vice-President in charge of 'Europe fit for the Digital Age', Margrethe Vestager gives a press conference to present the economic response to the Coronavirus crisis at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 13 March 2020. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

The EU’s bid to regulate online platforms, the Digital Services Act, is likely to address a number of competition issues related to the digital economy, possibly through a new competition tool, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Digital, Margrethe Vestager has said.

Speaking in front of MEPs in Parliament’s Internal Market Committee on Monday (4 May), Vestager noted that as part of the future Digital Services Act, due to be presented by the Commission before the end of the year, “a new competition tool” could be introduced which would aim to “prevent the tipping of markets.”

Market tipping refers to the situation where one company obtains high monopoly profits and market share, creating an anti-competitive environment for other firms.

“It’s not only in digital, but it’s more obvious in digital markets that a market can tip,” Vestager said. “And here, I think it’s very important that we are able to prevent this from happening, because now we have seen what a world we live in, when we have digital gatekeepers in a number of markets.”

“We need tools to help us when things cannot be effectively addressed by one on one or one on two. And also to make sure that we do not get into a situation where the markets cannot be contested anymore.”

More broadly on the competition front, Vestager said certain anti-competitive practices within the digital economy may call for ‘prescriptive’ measures to be imposed in order to “bring competition back into a market that has suffered from illegal behaviour.”

The Commission’s Vice-President for Digital also expressed general agreement with the draft report produced by the Internal Market’s rapporteur for the Digital Services Act, Socialists MEP Alex Agius Saliba. The Dane particularly applauded Saliba’s emphasis on establishing ex ante rules to ensure that large platforms remain fair and competitive.

For his part, Saliba was keen to emphasise on Monday that his report includes measures to preserve some of the founding principles of the eCommerce Directive, including the internal market clause, the prohibition of the imposition of the general monitoring obligation and the exemption of liability for illegal online content.

However, more significant parliamentary scrutiny of Saliba’s draft report was cut short on Monday due to a number of technical difficulties related to the video conferencing of the Internal Market Committee meeting.

Committee Chair Petra De Sutter suggested that shadow rapporteurs on the file could consider submitting their feedback on Saliba’s report in writing, to which Renew MEP Dita Charanzová, who has drafted her own opinion on the plans, responded that “a proper discussion” in the Committee should instead take place.

The European Commission’s Digital Services Act represents the executive’s bid to regulate the online ecosystem, potentially covering areas such as disinformation, political advertising, transparency, and offensive content.

Speaking in front of MEPs as part of the Culture Committee on Monday, the Commission’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said the executive would hope to abide by current commitments to the legislative programme, aiming to present the Digital Services Act before the end of 2020, although a recent leak of the Commission’s working programme had suggested that the plans could be postponed until early 2021.

“What’s coming up here is a new relationship with these platforms who are growing in awareness of their responsibilities, their accountability and their duty,” Breton said with regards to the Digital Services Act on Monday.

“Because platforms have to be aware of their key responsibility as gatekeepers. They must adapt to Europe and not the other way around.”

Broader plans with regards to the regulation of the Digital Services Act are currently being hotly debated over by parliamentarians.

Along with Saliba’s report for the Internal Market Committee, texts have also been published by EPP MEP Kris Peeters for the Civil Liberties Committee, and S&D’s Tiemo Wölken for the Legal Affairs Committee, as well as several opinion texts.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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