By Valentina Pop
BRUSSELS -- Margrethe Vestager, the Danish politician who has been the public face of the European Union's regulatory push against Silicon Valley, has been nominated for a second, five-year term as the bloc's competition commissioner.
The move was a surprise. Ms. Vestager was expected to hand over the competition role -- a powerful post with hands-on responsibilities for investigating and enforcing anti-competition issues -- as she ascended to a higher position in the commission. She will also take on an influential new role in shaping legislation for digital companies.
Ms. Vestager made a name for herself by slapping record antitrust fines on U.S. tech companies, including a total of $9.4 billion on Alphabet Inc.'s Google. She also o rdered Ireland to claw back $15 billion from Apple Inc. in what the commission called unpaid taxes. That earned her the nickname "tax lady" from President Donald Trump.
The division she has led for the last five years has pursued high-profile probes against Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc. and Qualcomm Inc., as well as non-tech American giants like McDonald's Corp., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Starbucks Corp.
Ms. Vestager is slated to become one of incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's three "executive" deputies, in a move that is expected to provide the new president with extra clout in commission deliberations. Her mandate over rule making related to the digital economy could give her even more influence over global tech regulation. Ms. Vestager confirmation by the European Parliament is widely expected.
Regulatory rule making in Brussels and Washington has emerged as a key issue facing the West's big tech giants, dominated by American companies. Europe has taken a sizable lead over policing Silicon Valley in recent years but the U.S. has also piled in on a number of fronts in recent months. Several agencies, including the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, have taken aim at tech companies, as have attorneys general across the country.
Ms. von der Leyen's administration has already signaled a push for new laws on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and the use of big data. It has promised action on this front within 100 days of taking office on Nov. 1. The commission, under Ms. Vestager, is already probing how companies like Facebook and Amazon.com use data gathered on their platforms. Both companies say have done nothing wrong.
American tech companies have said they generally welcome greater oversight. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook last year in Brussels attacked the "data-industrial complex" and called tighter privacy regulation. Facebook has touted its new efforts to police the content on its site.
But lawyers warned tech giants to brace themselves for more European scrutiny.
The commission's focus on "digital giants is set to sharpen further," said Alexi Dimitriou, competition counsel at Ashurst, a multinational law firm. "With her remit also expanding to coordinating wider digital policies, digital business should expect regulatory intensity to continue," he said.
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