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对话欧盟反垄断“铁娘子”:将欧洲拖入数字时代

对话欧盟反垄断“铁娘子”:将欧洲拖入数字时代

David Meyer 2021年04月11日
诸多问题的根源“其实都是贪婪、权力欲和恐惧心理在作祟”。

任职欧盟反垄断专员期间,玛格丽特·维斯塔格向苹果和谷歌等科技巨头开出了价值数十亿美元的罚单(注释1),并由此赢得了“硅谷克星”的美誉。

2019年,她的耀眼履历上又增添了一个新职位:欧盟委员会执行副主席,肩负着将欧洲拖入数字时代的重任。

这位52岁的丹麦经济内务部长为严格的技术监管设定了标准。图片来源:CHARLOTTE DE LA FUENTE

近日,《财富》与这位欧盟反垄断“铁娘子”进行了对话,畅谈了大型科技公司的未来和企业责任等话题。

为节省篇幅和清晰起见,记者对访谈实录进行了编辑处理。

欧洲vs硅谷

《财富》:过去有一种观点认为,你和欧盟委员会在追究企业,特别是美国公司在反垄断和隐私问题上的责任方面过于严苛。你是否认为全世界对于科技巨头应该肩负一定责任的态度,会和你的观点一致?

维斯塔格:我想是这样的。这是一场微妙而复杂的辩论。过去两三年围绕这个话题出炉的学术研究和政策报告不胜枚举,许多智库和政党都参与其中。

这反映了一个事实:相较于我们习惯应对的所有其他市场,数字市场是不受监管的。如此多市场都受到监管,比如金融市场、能源市场等等。唯有科技市场不是这样。正因如此,人们越来越清楚地认识到,这些市场并不见得会保持开放和竞争态势。

我认为世人的态度已经改变,因为反垄断案件理应发挥的作用越来越明显,那就是让创新实现价值,让市场保持开放。唯如此,创新才能惠及潜在的客户。

分布数据

去年,欧盟委员会相继提出两项重量级科技立法(注释2)。让我们先谈谈《数字市场法案》,该法案将迫使像谷歌和亚马逊这样的“看门人”更加公平地对待各自的客户,比如允许商业用户访问他们自身生成的数据。

像“数据囤积”这种概念符合我们对反竞争行为的经典认知吗?或者说,数字经济的崛起是否已经改变了我们对开放和竞争的定义?

如果你掌握了海量数据,那些拥有较少数据,但技术更好的人就很难与你竞争。事实上,你很可能是凭借着你拥有的大量数据而保持市场主导地位的,而不是因为你对自己正在做的事情非常在行。这当然会妨碍创新。

我认为,这就是我们屡见不鲜的那种问题,其实都是贪婪、权力欲和恐惧心理在作祟。如果你问100年前的市场参与者,他们也会说,有些人试图采用不当手段获得邻近市场的垄断地位,或者寻求说服市场监管机构给予他们一些不向其他人开放的优惠待遇。

话虽如此,但数字技术的发展速度和影响范围促成了一种翻天覆地的变化。作为监管者,你需要采取双重策略:一方面要认识到什么相同的,然后在应对竞争问题时也要尊重市场动态与过去迥然不同这一事实。

你率先使用反垄断法来解决避税问题,瞄准了你所认为的苹果和爱尔兰税务部门、亚马逊和卢森堡税务部门之间的非法国家援助交易。这一策略遭到了来自司法层面的打击,尤其是在苹果案中更是如此(注释3)。你仍然认为这是正确的方式吗?

在我看来,这些国家援助案在推动变革的势头方面助力良多。就在最近,按照国别披露纳税情况的这种做法被欧盟成员国接受了,经济合作与发展组织也在推进数字税收(注释4)。

国家援助交易从来没有被视为唯一的避税工具。税收正义的稳步推进,有赖于适当的横向立法,它显然也需要适当的执法力度。

可解释的算法

您提出的另一个重磅方案是旨在保护在线消费者的《数字服务法案》。就像欧盟此前通过的世界上最严厉的网络隐私法(注释5)《通用数据保护条例》一样,它要求公司的算法具有可解释性,尽管这个概念的全部含义还有待法庭的检验。那么公司能够在多大程度上保持其算法的私密性?

在应对欧盟强有力的监管文化,并尊重商业机密要素的边界方面,我们有一套自己的方式。我们一直在设法找到两者的平衡点。这就是为什么我们一直采用“可解释性”这种方式,就是想看看事情是如何运作的,而不是让监管部门担负起逐行检查代码的职责。

《数字服务法案》似乎给Facebook和Twitter等社交媒体平台规定了新的义务,但并没有明确告诉他们,应该从平台上删除什么样的信息。在内容方面,你是否仍然要求社交平台遵循自律原则?

这让平台承担了很多责任。该法案本身并不涉及内容,这是因为欧盟成员国在这方面会产生分歧。例如,并不是每个成员国都以同样的方式,将发布仇恨言论视为非法行为。因此,在内容方面,平台方必须得遵守各国的具体法规。

如果我们要求平台迅速撤下非法内容,那就需要建立一套系统,让人们可以抗议内容被删除,同时还得要求平台“不要使用通用的上传过滤器(注释6)。”如果平台设置了上传过滤器,内容遭到审查的风险就会变得非常大,而我们不想冒这个险。

在数字世界中,这是一个非常强大的原则,尽管在上传后审查和删除内容需要耗费更多的资源。

这些平台会不会认为,相较于删除太少而面临法律后果,删除过多的内容更容易做到合法合规?

从我的同事那里了解到的情况是,他们仍然发现平台下架的内容太少了。另外,我认为如果删除太多,人们的反应会非常强烈。

“数字主权”,即欧盟不应该依赖世界其他地区,提供诸如人工智能和高性能计算机这类技术,俨然已成为欧盟内部的一个流行词。实现数字主权是您现在的工作,这对你来说意味着什么?

欧洲向来以强力监管著称,这也是我们的优势之一。因为强有力的监管会使社会更具包容性,有助于创造一个公平竞争的环境。问题是,要想成为一个称职的监管者,你真的需要亲身了解你正在应对的事情,这就是为什么能够自己做一些事情变得越来越重要。

举个很世俗的例子吧。我觉得我对漂亮的衣服很有鉴赏力,因为我自己平常就喜欢缝纫。我深知,做一件外套或连衣裙需要付出多大的努力。我偶尔会为自己做件衣物,但并不会让我萌生亲自动手填满整个衣橱的念头。

我们正在建立一个高性能计算机网络,并且寻求在2025年前,至少能开发出一台量子计算机。所以,我们不仅想知道欧盟还可以在哪些层面推动监管,还想在创新方面有所建树。

面向未来

你觉得在这场疫情尘埃落定后,世界,尤其是欧洲,将呈现哪些变化?

这个问题太宏大了。从实际情况来看,我们希望工作和生活达成新的平衡,人们能够更多地在家工作,因为现在每个人都知道这确实是可行的。

至少在我供职的组织中,大家的工作效率都提高了。所以,那些声称员工居家办公不会好好干活的人应该感到惭愧才对。

我们也要更加谨慎地认识到,下一场危机可能不是另一场金融危机,也可能不是另一场疫情。

所以在防范危机的时候,我们必须得扩大工作范围,但同时也要认识到,在处理危机的过程中,我们需要朋友,需要相互依赖,因为依赖并不一定是弱点。欧盟的优势在于成员国相互依赖,这个单一市场是面向每个人的。

2019年,有传闻称你将成为下任欧盟委员会主席,但这个职位最终落到了乌苏拉·冯德莱恩的手中。这个任期结束后,您还有什么抱负?

我知道你肯定不会相信这套说辞,我是真的连一秒钟都不曾考虑过这件事。

首先是因为我们正在全力抗击新冠疫情和塑造未来,这就足够忙得焦头烂额。其次是因为,根据我的经验,如果你的下一份工作是件好差事,那么你最好集中精力,心无旁骛地做好你手头的工作。一旦你因为思考两年、三年、四年后的事情而失去专注度,你就会很快失去工作能力。然后人们就会问:“如果她连现在的本职工作都做不好,为什么还要指望她在将来有更大的作为呢?”

注释:

(1)重量级科技公司的重量级罚单

几家被欧盟处以巨额罚款,或被迫补缴税款的美国科技巨头

150亿美元

2016年,欧盟要求苹果向爱尔兰补缴税款(该裁决已被推翻)

2.95亿美元

2017年,欧盟要求亚马逊向卢森堡补缴税款

50亿美元

2018年,谷歌因强制要求安卓设备预装其搜索引擎而遭到欧盟重罚

12亿美元

2018年,因采用不当手段为苹果公司独家供应芯片,高通(Qualcomm)领到欧盟反垄断当局开出的巨额罚单

(2) 沉重而缓慢的政策:这些举措目前仍然只是提案。所有的欧盟立法还必须经过欧洲议会和成员国的审议,而这个过程往往需要数年时间。

(3)苹果反击:维斯塔格领导的部门裁定苹果必须向爱尔兰补缴150亿美元的税款,称该公司此前通过一笔“甜心交易”避税的行为违反欧盟法律。2020年,欧盟普通法院以证据不足为由推翻了这项裁决。欧盟委员会正在对这一决定提出上诉。

(4)税收透明度:今年3月,欧盟成员国同意推进一项法律,旨在迫使大型跨国公司公开披露他们在每个国家缴纳的所得税数额。

(5)我的数据我做主:欧盟的《通用数据保护条例》于2018年生效,理论上赋予欧洲人对个人数据使用的强大控制权。但在实践中,这项条例的执行情况一直有待改进。

(6)监管云:在线平台有时会使用过滤器来扫描用户上传的内容,例如检查相关内容是否违反版权。欧盟禁止成员国强迫平台扫描所有用户生成的内容。(财富中文网)

译者:任文科

任职欧盟反垄断专员期间,玛格丽特·维斯塔格向苹果和谷歌等科技巨头开出了价值数十亿美元的罚单(注释1),并由此赢得了“硅谷克星”的美誉。

2019年,她的耀眼履历上又增添了一个新职位:欧盟委员会执行副主席,肩负着将欧洲拖入数字时代的重任。

近日,《财富》与这位欧盟反垄断“铁娘子”进行了对话,畅谈了大型科技公司的未来和企业责任等话题。

为节省篇幅和清晰起见,记者对访谈实录进行了编辑处理。

欧洲vs硅谷

《财富》:过去有一种观点认为,你和欧盟委员会在追究企业,特别是美国公司在反垄断和隐私问题上的责任方面过于严苛。你是否认为全世界对于科技巨头应该肩负一定责任的态度,会和你的观点一致?

维斯塔格:我想是这样的。这是一场微妙而复杂的辩论。过去两三年围绕这个话题出炉的学术研究和政策报告不胜枚举,许多智库和政党都参与其中。

这反映了一个事实:相较于我们习惯应对的所有其他市场,数字市场是不受监管的。如此多市场都受到监管,比如金融市场、能源市场等等。唯有科技市场不是这样。正因如此,人们越来越清楚地认识到,这些市场并不见得会保持开放和竞争态势。

我认为世人的态度已经改变,因为反垄断案件理应发挥的作用越来越明显,那就是让创新实现价值,让市场保持开放。唯如此,创新才能惠及潜在的客户。

分布数据

去年,欧盟委员会相继提出两项重量级科技立法(注释2)。让我们先谈谈《数字市场法案》,该法案将迫使像谷歌和亚马逊这样的“看门人”更加公平地对待各自的客户,比如允许商业用户访问他们自身生成的数据。

像“数据囤积”这种概念符合我们对反竞争行为的经典认知吗?或者说,数字经济的崛起是否已经改变了我们对开放和竞争的定义?

如果你掌握了海量数据,那些拥有较少数据,但技术更好的人就很难与你竞争。事实上,你很可能是凭借着你拥有的大量数据而保持市场主导地位的,而不是因为你对自己正在做的事情非常在行。这当然会妨碍创新。

我认为,这就是我们屡见不鲜的那种问题,其实都是贪婪、权力欲和恐惧心理在作祟。如果你问100年前的市场参与者,他们也会说,有些人试图采用不当手段获得邻近市场的垄断地位,或者寻求说服市场监管机构给予他们一些不向其他人开放的优惠待遇。

话虽如此,但数字技术的发展速度和影响范围促成了一种翻天覆地的变化。作为监管者,你需要采取双重策略:一方面要认识到什么相同的,然后在应对竞争问题时也要尊重市场动态与过去迥然不同这一事实。

你率先使用反垄断法来解决避税问题,瞄准了你所认为的苹果和爱尔兰税务部门、亚马逊和卢森堡税务部门之间的非法国家援助交易。这一策略遭到了来自司法层面的打击,尤其是在苹果案中更是如此(注释3)。你仍然认为这是正确的方式吗?

在我看来,这些国家援助案在推动变革的势头方面助力良多。就在最近,按照国别披露纳税情况的这种做法被欧盟成员国接受了,经济合作与发展组织也在推进数字税收(注释4)。

国家援助交易从来没有被视为唯一的避税工具。税收正义的稳步推进,有赖于适当的横向立法,它显然也需要适当的执法力度。

可解释的算法

您提出的另一个重磅方案是旨在保护在线消费者的《数字服务法案》。就像欧盟此前通过的世界上最严厉的网络隐私法(注释5)《通用数据保护条例》一样,它要求公司的算法具有可解释性,尽管这个概念的全部含义还有待法庭的检验。那么公司能够在多大程度上保持其算法的私密性?

在应对欧盟强有力的监管文化,并尊重商业机密要素的边界方面,我们有一套自己的方式。我们一直在设法找到两者的平衡点。这就是为什么我们一直采用“可解释性”这种方式,就是想看看事情是如何运作的,而不是让监管部门担负起逐行检查代码的职责。

《数字服务法案》似乎给Facebook和Twitter等社交媒体平台规定了新的义务,但并没有明确告诉他们,应该从平台上删除什么样的信息。在内容方面,你是否仍然要求社交平台遵循自律原则?

这让平台承担了很多责任。该法案本身并不涉及内容,这是因为欧盟成员国在这方面会产生分歧。例如,并不是每个成员国都以同样的方式,将发布仇恨言论视为非法行为。因此,在内容方面,平台方必须得遵守各国的具体法规。

如果我们要求平台迅速撤下非法内容,那就需要建立一套系统,让人们可以抗议内容被删除,同时还得要求平台“不要使用通用的上传过滤器(注释6)。”如果平台设置了上传过滤器,内容遭到审查的风险就会变得非常大,而我们不想冒这个险。

在数字世界中,这是一个非常强大的原则,尽管在上传后审查和删除内容需要耗费更多的资源。

这些平台会不会认为,相较于删除太少而面临法律后果,删除过多的内容更容易做到合法合规?

从我的同事那里了解到的情况是,他们仍然发现平台下架的内容太少了。另外,我认为如果删除太多,人们的反应会非常强烈。

“数字主权”,即欧盟不应该依赖世界其他地区,提供诸如人工智能和高性能计算机这类技术,俨然已成为欧盟内部的一个流行词。实现数字主权是您现在的工作,这对你来说意味着什么?

欧洲向来以强力监管著称,这也是我们的优势之一。因为强有力的监管会使社会更具包容性,有助于创造一个公平竞争的环境。问题是,要想成为一个称职的监管者,你真的需要亲身了解你正在应对的事情,这就是为什么能够自己做一些事情变得越来越重要。

举个很世俗的例子吧。我觉得我对漂亮的衣服很有鉴赏力,因为我自己平常就喜欢缝纫。我深知,做一件外套或连衣裙需要付出多大的努力。我偶尔会为自己做件衣物,但并不会让我萌生亲自动手填满整个衣橱的念头。

我们正在建立一个高性能计算机网络,并且寻求在2025年前,至少能开发出一台量子计算机。所以,我们不仅想知道欧盟还可以在哪些层面推动监管,还想在创新方面有所建树。

面向未来

你觉得在这场疫情尘埃落定后,世界,尤其是欧洲,将呈现哪些变化?

这个问题太宏大了。从实际情况来看,我们希望工作和生活达成新的平衡,人们能够更多地在家工作,因为现在每个人都知道这确实是可行的。

至少在我供职的组织中,大家的工作效率都提高了。所以,那些声称员工居家办公不会好好干活的人应该感到惭愧才对。

我们也要更加谨慎地认识到,下一场危机可能不是另一场金融危机,也可能不是另一场疫情。

所以在防范危机的时候,我们必须得扩大工作范围,但同时也要认识到,在处理危机的过程中,我们需要朋友,需要相互依赖,因为依赖并不一定是弱点。欧盟的优势在于成员国相互依赖,这个单一市场是面向每个人的。

2019年,有传闻称你将成为下任欧盟委员会主席,但这个职位最终落到了乌苏拉·冯德莱恩的手中。这个任期结束后,您还有什么抱负?

我知道你肯定不会相信这套说辞,我是真的连一秒钟都不曾考虑过这件事。

首先是因为我们正在全力抗击新冠疫情和塑造未来,这就足够忙得焦头烂额。其次是因为,根据我的经验,如果你的下一份工作是件好差事,那么你最好集中精力,心无旁骛地做好你手头的工作。一旦你因为思考两年、三年、四年后的事情而失去专注度,你就会很快失去工作能力。然后人们就会问:“如果她连现在的本职工作都做不好,为什么还要指望她在将来有更大的作为呢?”

注释:

(1)重量级科技公司的重量级罚单

几家被欧盟处以巨额罚款,或被迫补缴税款的美国科技巨头

150亿美元

2016年,欧盟要求苹果向爱尔兰补缴税款(该裁决已被推翻)

2.95亿美元

2017年,欧盟要求亚马逊向卢森堡补缴税款

50亿美元

2018年,谷歌因强制要求安卓设备预装其搜索引擎而遭到欧盟重罚

12亿美元

2018年,因采用不当手段为苹果公司独家供应芯片,高通(Qualcomm)领到欧盟反垄断当局开出的巨额罚单

(2) 沉重而缓慢的政策:这些举措目前仍然只是提案。所有的欧盟立法还必须经过欧洲议会和成员国的审议,而这个过程往往需要数年时间。

(3)苹果反击:维斯塔格领导的部门裁定苹果必须向爱尔兰补缴150亿美元的税款,称该公司此前通过一笔“甜心交易”避税的行为违反欧盟法律。2020年,欧盟普通法院以证据不足为由推翻了这项裁决。欧盟委员会正在对这一决定提出上诉。

(4)税收透明度:今年3月,欧盟成员国同意推进一项法律,旨在迫使大型跨国公司公开披露他们在每个国家缴纳的所得税数额。

(5)我的数据我做主:欧盟的《通用数据保护条例》于2018年生效,理论上赋予欧洲人对个人数据使用的强大控制权。但在实践中,这项条例的执行情况一直有待改进。

(6)监管云:在线平台有时会使用过滤器来扫描用户上传的内容,例如检查相关内容是否违反版权。欧盟禁止成员国强迫平台扫描所有用户生成的内容。(财富中文网)

译者:任文科

As the EU’s antitrust enforcer, Margrethe Vestager earned a rep as the scourge of Silicon Valley, hammering titans like Apple and Google with billions in penalties. 1 In 2019, she added a new line to her CV: EVP of the European Commission, tasked with dragging Europe into the digital age. We talked to Vestager about the future of Big Tech and corporate accountability. INTERVIEW BY DAVID MEYER

THIS EDITED Q&A HAS BEEN CONDENSED FOR SPACE AND CLARITY.

EUROPE VS. SILICON VALLEY

In the past there has been a perception that you and the European Commission have been too strict in holding American companies in particular to account around issues of antitrust and privacy. Do you think the world’s attitude about the responsibility of tech giants is coming round to your way of thinking?

VESTAGER: I think very much so. It’s a nuanced and complex debate that has taken hold over the last two to three years with academic reports, research, policy reports, think tanks, political parties. That is a reflection of the fact that the digital marketplace is unregulated compared to all the other markets that we’re used to dealing in. We have a regulated financial market; we have a regulated energy market. So many markets are regulated; only tech has not been. And because of that it has become increasingly clear that it is not a given that these markets will stay open and competitive.

I think it has changed because it has become more obvious that what the antitrust cases should do is actually enable innovation to be worthwhile—for the market to stay open so innovation can reach potential customers.

DISTRIBUTING DATA

Last year the Commission proposed two blockbuster pieces of tech legislation. 2 Let’s start with the Digital Markets Act, which would force “gatekeepers” such as Google and Amazon to treat their customers more fairly—for example, by allowing business users to access the data they generate. Does a concept such as “data hoarding” fit into our classic conception of anticompetitive behavior, or has the rise of the digital economy changed how we define openness and competition?

If you hold really, really big amounts of data, it becomes very difficult for people with less data but better technology to compete against you. It may very well be that it’s only the fact that you have a lot of data that allows you to stay dominant, not that you are excellent at what you are doing. And that of course becomes a problem for innovation.

I think basically it’s the same problems [we’ve always seen] ... It’s greed, it’s power, it’s fear. If you ask people in the marketplace 100 years ago, they would also say some are trying to leverage themselves in a neighboring market or are trying to push the regulator of the marketplace to do them some favor that was not open to others.

But, that being said, it’s a categorical change with the speed and the scope of digital technologies. [As a regulator] you need to have that double approach: On one hand to recognize what is the same ... and then also to deal with them in a way that respects the fact that dynamics are so different.

You pioneered the use of antitrust law to tackle tax avoidance, targeting what you saw as illegal state aid deals between Apple and the Irish tax authorities, Amazon and the Luxembourg tax office, and so on. That strategy has taken legal blows, most notably in the Apple case. 3 Do you still think this was the right approach?

I think the state aid cases have been helpful in the momentum of change. Just recently, country-by-country reporting was accepted, and the OECD is moving ahead on digital taxation.4 The state aid approach was never thought of to be the one and only tool. Tax justice that is firmly anchored needs proper horizontal legislation and, obviously, proper enforcement.

INSIDE THE ALGO

The other big package you proposed is the Digital Services Act, which deals with protecting consumers online. Like the EU’s GDPR— the world’s toughest online privacy law 5 —it calls for companies’ algorithms to be explainable, though the full meaning of that concept hasn’t yet been tested in court. To what extent should companies still be able to keep their algorithms private?

We have our own ways of dealing with the strong regulatory culture in the European Union and respecting boundaries for elements of business secrecy; we have been trying to find ways to balance things. This is why explainability, to see how things are working, rather than an obligation that regulators should go through the code line by line, has been the approach.

The Digital Services Act appears to place new obligations on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter but doesn’t plainly tell them what kind of information to remove from their platforms. Is your approach to content still one of self-regulation?

It puts a lot of responsibility on the platforms. The act in itself is not about content, also because there will be differences between [EU] member states. For instance, hate speech is not outlawed in every member state in the same manner. So here platforms will have to deal with the national provisions when it comes to content.

When we say you have to take illegal content down fast ... you need to have this system where people can protest against things being taken down, while at the same time saying, “Do not use general upload filters.” 6 If you have an upload filter, then the risk of censorship becomes very big, and we don’t want to take that risk. That’s quite a strong principle in a digital world, even though it’s more resource intensive [to review and remove material after it’s been uploaded].

Won’t the platforms just decide it’s easier to comply by over-removing content, than it is to remove too little and face legal consequences?

What I understand from my colleagues is that they still find too little is being removed. Also, I think people would react very strongly if too much is taken down.

“Digital sovereignty”—the idea that Europe shouldn’t be reliant on other parts of the world for technology such as A.I. and high-performance computing—has become an EU buzzword. Achieving digital sovereignty is your job now, so what does it mean to you?

Europe has always been a great regulator, and that is part of some of [our] strength, because that allows more inclusive societies and creates a level playing field. The thing is, if you want to be a good regulator you really need to have a hands-on understanding of what you’re dealing with, and that’s why it becomes increasingly important to be able to do some things yourself.

To give a very banal example, I think I’m better at appreciating a nice piece of clothing because I am a sewer myself; I know the effort it takes to make a coat or a dress. But the fact that I occasionally do that for myself doesn’t make me want to create my entire wardrobe.

We’re in the process of establishing a network of high-performance computers; [we want to develop] at least one quantum [computer] if we could before 2025. So not only do we want to know where can we push when it comes to regulation, we also want to push when it comes to innovation.

FACING THE FUTURE

How do you see the world, and Europe in particular, being different once the pandemic is over?

It’s such a big question. I think in practical terms, we want a new work/ life balance, to be able to work more from home, because now everybody knows that this is indeed doable. At least in my organization, productivity has gone up, so shame on people who say people don’t work when they work from home.

We will also be more cautious realizing that the next crisis may not be another financial crisis, may not be another pandemic. So in our crisis preparedness we will work to be more broad, but also realizing that in handling crisis we need friends. We need to depend on one another, because dependency is not necessarily a weakness. The strength of the European Union is that member states depend on one another, that the single market is for everyone.

In 2019 your name was bandied around for the presidency of the European Commission, but the role ended up going to Ursula von der Leyen. What are your ambitions beyond this term?

I know you don’t believe that kind of stuff, but I have not thought about it for a second. First, because we are crazy busy right now fighting COVID and shaping the future, but second because in my experience if your next job is going to be a good one, then better stay focused to do a good job in what you do now. The minute you lose focus because you’re thinking two, three, four years ahead, then you also lose your touch, and then people think, “Why would she be relevant for anything in the future if she is not in the job that she has right now?”

BETWEEN THE LINES

BIG TECH, BIG MONEY (1)

A few of the U.S. players the EU has hit with massive fines or back-tax bills

$15 BILLION APPLE (2016) Irish back taxes (overturned)

$295 M. AMAZON (2017) Luxembourg back taxes

$5 BILLION GOOGLE (2018) Fine for Google search engine dominance on Android

$1.2 B. QUALCOMM (2018) Fine for antitrust laws violation with Apple

(2) Plodding policy: The acts remain proposals for now. All EU legislation must also be considered by the European Parliament and member states, a process that often takes years.

(3) Apple bites back: Vestager’s department ruled Apple had to pay $15 billion in Irish back taxes, claiming it avoided them through a sweet-heart deal. The EU General Court overturned the ruling in 2020 over a lack of evidence. The Commission is appealing that decision.

(4) Tax transparency: In March, the EU’s member states agreed to advance a law that will force large multinationals to publicly disclose how much income tax they pay in each country.

(5) Our data, ourselves: The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation came into effect in 2018, theoretically giving people in Europe strong control over the use of their personal data. In practice, enforcement has been spotty.

(6) Policing the cloud: Online platforms sometimes use filters to scan what users upload, for example to check for copyright violations. The EU prohibits member states from forcing platforms to scan all user-generated content.

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