Amazon will soon face antitrust proceedings to address concerns raised by EU authorities regarding the company’s access and use of data. Specifically, they claim the American company can see sensitive commercial information on third-party products such as price or volume. Amazon’s actions would qualify as anti-competitive if the EU finds that it has been using this data to improve the ranking of its own products.
Regardless of the outcome of this investigation into abusive, monopolistic behaviour, the EU will come out as a loser if it does not undertake a radical digital reform to liberalise its digital single market. In the face of digital competitors from abroad, it has become convenient to pull out antitrust laws in response to every tech issue. But such an approach has neither made the EU more innovation-friendly nor more mindful of actual consumer needs.
Instead of letting digital services of all types develop at their own pace, the EU has relegated itself to passing legislation that is far from technology-neutral. According to EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s current regulations were put in place “when no one could have foreseen the situation we’re in today, that platforms would not just be channels, but full ecosystems where a lot of what is ongoing is monetised by the platform itself.” There was, of course, no way to predict what has happened, but it’s a poor justification for the EU’s digital lag.
Regulators, though with noble intentions, are simply unable to know ahead of time how far innovation can and will go. What they can do, instead, is create and sustain a framework that does not pick winners and losers, but safeguards intellectual property rights, keeps taxation low to encourage returns, limits barriers to entry, and makes investment easy.
In Europe, there are many outdated laws that make it burdensome to create new and innovative digital services before they ever hit the market. One example is the lack of a European-wide license for audiovisual services, forcing service providers to apply in every Member State if they want to show their content. It is the same for most other digital services in the EU, including music streaming or news collection.
"If the EU succumbs once more to antitrust legislation, it will come at the expense of future innovation and risk cutting off millions of European consumers from vital digital services"
Another key issue concerns taxation. The EU has long considered levying a tax of between two and six percent on the local revenues of platform giants. The prospect of trade talks with the US has brought this topic back into the spotlight. However, an EU-wide digital tax would limit potential future innovation. Innovators should be able to choose between high-taxed and low-taxed locations, not be faced with a uniform unavoidable tax. Complicated issues - such as the EU’s digital lag - require complex solutions according to officials, but that’s not the case. Less intervention means more innovation. Antitrust lawsuits and actions are a great tool for tax collecting but they don’t solve the core problem. We need a digital market that has many different options to choose from, making it less likely that one company can gain a monopoly as it will be more preoccupied with actual competition, and thus seek to come up with innovative solutions for consumers.
If the EU engages once more in antitrust proceedings, it will come at the expense of future innovation and risk cutting off millions of European consumers from vital digital services. We need reform and liberalisation in order to better provide for both consumers and producers.