In an effort to rein in the unfair and largely unregulated powers of large online platforms, the Digital Market Act was debated at the European Parliament on Tuesday.
The draft law would blacklist certain practices and enable the European Commission to carry out market investigations and impose sanctions for non-compliant behaviour.
Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission highlighted the benefits the bill would have to smaller companies in a domain currently dominated by tech giants: “This is a pro-innovation proposal that gives a chance to smaller businesses.”
Power for the many, not the few
Vestager drew attention to concerns about “gatekeepers” – major companies that provide so-called “core platform services” such as social networks, search engines, video sharing services or online advertising services. These companies have acquired monopoly positions as almost all online traffic is directed via their platforms.
Big Tech companies spend a fortune lobbying European institutions; a recent study found that representatives of Google and Facebook have the most meetings with the European Commission. Researchers say that these have one aim: opposing strict rules that would affect their commercial model and profits.
Nevertheless, members of Parliament are proposing the creation of a “European High-Level Group of Digital Regulators” with the Digital Market Act, hoping to empower whistleblowers and set minimum fines for companies whose practices stifle competition.
Holding back innovation
Speaking of the EU’s ethos of nurturing innovation, rapporteur Andreas Schwab (EPP, DE) said that “we do not want bigger companies getting bigger and bigger without getting any better and at the expense of consumers and the European economy.”
“Today, it is clear that competition rules alone cannot address all the problems we are facing with tech giants and their ability to set the rules by engaging in unfair business practices.”
Proponents want to send a strong message to big online platforms: “Rules are set by the co-legislators, not private companies.”
Schwab’s concerns were echoed by Anna Cavazzini (Greens/EFA, DE) who said that “Currently, a few large platforms and tech players prevent alternative business models from emerging – including those of small and medium-sized companies.”
“Often, users cannot choose freely between different services. With the Digital Markets Act, the EU is putting an end to the absolute market dominance of big online platforms in the EU.”
A final vote will take place on Wednesday.