Bane of Big Tech, EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, steps away for a bit
Is that a relieved sob from Google lawyers we hear?
Margrethe Vestager is temporarily stepping down as European Commissioner for Competition to campaign for a job as President of the Management Committee of the European Investment Bank.
Vestager said she'd been nominated for the position by the Danish government and requested unpaid leave for the campaign's duration, a request granted by European President Ursula von der Leyen.
Vestager, whose term will end in 2024, will be replaced by Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders. The announcement of her move coincides with the designation of six gatekeepers – Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Bytedance, Meta and Microsoft – under the Digital Markets Act (DMA).
Take a trip through the highs - and lows - of EU attempts to rein in big tech
During her time as competition commissioner for the European Commission, Vestager has been a thorn in the side of many tech companies. Although her absence is temporary, we thought it appropriate to take a walk through some of her highlights – or lowlights, if you were on the wrong end of her team's attention.
In 2019, Google was slapped with a €1.49 billion fine ($1.60 billion) over its business practices. Vestager thundered: "Google abused its dominance to stop websites using brokers other than its own AdSense platform" before insisting she wasn't singling out successful US tech companies for her ire.
The fine came after several years and multiple investigations into the search giant, which kicked off in 2015.
It wasn't only Google who faced antitrust woes under the Danish chief over the years. Microsoft's exploits have also come in for attention. Most recently, the company's practice of bundling Teams with Microsoft 365 has caused the European Commission to launch a "formal investigation." The $69 billion deal to acquire Activision Blizzard also attracted comment from Vestager.
As recently as June 2023, the Danish politician threatened to break up Google over its alleged ad monopoly.
Then there were the antics of Amazon. The commission opted to take a closer look at the tech giant when it received complaints it was unfairly exploiting the business data of third-party sellers. Or Apple, who came under scrutiny over its Apple Pay practices and tax arrangements.
The list continues, although Vestager also suffered some notable misses during her tenure. In 2022, an antitrust fine to the tune of nearly a billion euros against Qualcomm was nullified due to "procedural irregularities." Intel overturned a similar penalty at the start of 2022.
- EU says dominant Google illegally alters search results
- Qualcomm wins EU court battle against $1b antitrust fine
- Europe teases breaking up Google over ad monopoly
- Microsoft's $69B deal to buy Activision Blizzard under investigation by EU regulators
Ultimately, Vestager has been vocal in her calls for antitrust regulation in the EU and an undoubted irritant for big tech companies. Should she succeed in her campaign for her new position, her successor – Didier Reynders – has a busy time ahead of him. A variety of open cases include investigations into Apple and Meta.
Tech giants hoping for an easier ride under the temporary chief will not be reassured by his comments on his Twitter account: "I will continue to ensure that EU competition policy & rules are vigorously enforced." ®