Skift Take

Margrethe Vestager has been a thorn in the side of Google in the past. Will she use her next term to go after the technology giant's travel vertical?

Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s top antitrust regulator, will retain her job under new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Vestager, who President Donald Trump denigrated as Europe’s “tax lady,” will have an expanded role as one of three new executive vice presidents with her portfolio also including a wider digital remit.

The reappointment will likely cause concern among the global tech giants, which have frequently been a target of the Danish politician.

In a letter to Vestager setting out her plans, Von der Leyen outlined a number of areas that she wants her to focus on. These include reviewing Europe’s competition rules and strengthening enforcement.

Von der Leyen has also tasked Vestager with coordinating work on a digital tax either at an international level or alternatively “to propose a fair European tax”.

Plans for an EU-wide digital tax were scrapped in March, although France has pushed ahead with its own levy.

The EU envisaged a 3 percent tax on revenue above a certain threshold.

Airbnb and are among the list of firms France is targeting and would likely suffer further if the EU looked again at continent-wide legislation.

Going After Google?

During her previous term in office, Vestager scored a number of victories against tech companies. Perhaps the most high-profile cases were those involving Google.

The EU reprimanded the company over its shopping product, android operating system, and online advertising platform but so far avoided any direct ruling on its growing travel division.

Back in 2017 the European Technology and Travel Services Association (ETTSA), a lobbying group which counts and Expedia among its members, urged the commission to expand its investigation into the travel arena.

“Google’s conduct is significantly impacting on competition in the travel vertical, the single largest of the vertical search markets, at the expense of consumers and of Google’s competitors,” the organization’s then secretary general, Christoph Klenner, said at the time.

In a speech at a business forum at the end of last month before her reappointment, Vestager made a significant reference to the company, implying she still has it firmly in her sights.

The ETTSA welcomed the new look Commission under president-elect Von der Leyen.

ETTSA will always remain available to contributing to devising a more competitive European travel market that works in the best interests of European consumers and businesses alike,” it said in a statement to Skift.

The European Parliament still needs to ratify the new Commission structure.

Other Investigations

As well as Google, the EU has instigated other investigations covering the travel and tourism industry.

In 2017 it opened proceedings against tour operators, including Thomas Cook and TUI, and Meliá Hotels over potential price discrimination.

Last November it launched a probe into airline ticket intermediaries Amadeus and Sabre looking at whether their contracts with airlines and travel agents restricted competition. Skift understands the investigation is still ongoing.

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Tags: european union, regulation, technology

Photo credit: Margrethe Vestager. The Danish politician will keep her job as the EU's anti-trust enforcer. Stine Heilmann / European Union

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