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Vestager vows big-tech clampdown in audition for new EU job

(Bloomberg) --Margrethe Vestager promised a clampdown on big tech as she kicked off her European Parliament audition for a job that will equip her with greater weaponry to take on the Silicon Valley giants.

The Dane is expected to win the backing of lawmakers, who must sign off on her bid to become a vice president of the European Commission from Nov. 1, tasked with making “a Europe fit for the digital age.” She’ll combine that job overseeing technology policy with her current role as the EU’s powerful antitrust chief.

Vestager told reporters she’d have to prove independence as an antitrust enforcer in the "everyday ways of working" with "checks and balances to make sure that every case that we open, that we investigate, that we decide upon is based on the evidence of the case, the facts and the case law."

She was responding to criticism of her proposed dual role from the Christian Democratic group, the parliament’s biggest.

Dutch lawmaker Esther de Lange said in a statement from the group that there was a "clear incompatibility" and that it’s not possible to "strengthen antitrust efforts and fine tech giants and, at the same time, count on Google or Apple’s cooperation for a digital industrial strategy."

The comments were a rare negative on a day when many parliamentarians applauded Vestager following a question-and-answer session that cemented her candidature as one of incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s top picks.

Her five-year term will focus on digital services rules to set new liability and safety limits for internet platforms, she said in a speech. She’ll also propose artificial-intelligence rules within her first 100 days in the job to make sure the technology "is used ethically, to support human decisions and not undermine them." Europe is "in a hurry" with the AI strategy that will try to tackle bias and avoid cementing existing inequalities, she said.

European Commission Competition Commissioner Margarete Vestager Interview

EU officials are weighing ways to help gig economy workers with a potential antitrust exemption that might allow them discuss prices as they organize to push for better pay from Internet platforms, she told lawmakers. She’s also pushing on with a campaign on corporate taxation with a new sweep on tax rulings issued by European governments, she said.

Sharing Data

"We may also need to regulate the way that companies collect and use and share data so it benefits the whole of our society," she said in prepared remarks for the start of the hearing, in another warning that she may set more curbs on how internet firms gather valuable information.

Her new job’s extra firepower adds to her already hefty role as antitrust enforcer, where she has unusual autonomy to take decisions without giving in to political pressure. She’s overseen a massive back-tax bill for Apple Inc., billions of euros in fines for Google and a veto for a prized French-German rail deal.