Margrethe Vestager, Vice-President of the EU Commission, announces quick action against the high energy prices and gives Ukraine EU hopes.
The EU Commission wants to do everything to stop the acute price explosion on the energy market. In the first step, it was “top priority” to ensure the energy supply – “for example by importing more liquid gas from abroad and filling the gas storage facilities,” said Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager in an interview with the news magazine FOCUS. “Now the next step is to do everything we can to stop the price increase.”
It is now a matter of “finding a way to skim off the excess profits of the energy companies in order to use the revenue to finance the necessary aid for heavily burdened households”. It is “extremely important that this aid is distributed in a targeted manner” – i.e. that it reaches those who are really in need. In addition, the EU must think about “how we want to shape the energy market as a whole in the future”.
The Danish Vestager is concerned about the situation given the variety of acute crises: Europe will “probably not return to the old normality anytime soon”. Managing the crisis day after day without losing sight of “our long-term goals” is “an enormous challenge”. But at least it is about “that the foundations of the European Union are at stake here. That means the war is just as crucial for us as it is for Ukraine, except that our lives are not at stake. That’s what Ukraine is about. Every day.”
It is “incredibly depressing” to see that people in Ukraine are having to fight for European values. “That they are ready to die for the European idea. At the same time, for me it is an enormous motivation, and it should be for all of us.”
At the same time, Vestager defended the course of her commission chief Ursula von der Leyen against inner-European criticism in the FOCUS interview. Charles Michel, President of the EU Council, recently criticized that the Commission had long underestimated the upcoming problems. “I understand that right now everyone is really frustrated with the situation we’re in,” Vestager replied. “Everyone would have wished it differently. But I hardly know anyone who could have told me exactly what was in store a year ago.”
As Vice President of the EU Commission, Vestager is not only one of the most powerful women in the Union. As Commissioner for Competition, she also fights hard against the superior power of American tech companies. Isn’t she afraid of losing more ground on the important topic of digitization due to the sheer war in Ukraine and the energy crisis?
“We’re doing our best that it doesn’t come to that,” she told FOCUS. “The changes we need to address are just getting bigger and bigger. With Corona we sometimes had to manage a total standstill. Now we have to accelerate change without knowing exactly what tomorrow will bring. These are two very different exercises, which we are currently being asked to do at the same time.”
An EU court has just confirmed a fine against the Google parent company Alphabet: It has to pay over four billion because it is said to have abused the market power of its Android operating system. With the new legislative packages Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act, the necessary instruments are now available to protect the market and human rights, she said.
“The others will keep an eye on us if we don’t manage to fill this legislation with life. I take that very seriously, because we as the Commission are now not the executors,” says Vestager, who feels committed to a clear mandate: “What really drives me every day is the desire that we in this digital world are citizens and not just data points. A lot of people are afraid that technology is not there to serve them, but to control them.”
That’s why she has the new virtual worlds closely controlled by Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg: “The Metaverse only delivers what many video gamers are already experiencing today: a world that you can immerse yourself in, from which you hardly have to get out and in where you can spend a lot of money.” The new EU rules are “quite useful for this. But we’ll look at that further. Democracy, the institutions – all of that has to be guaranteed in a virtual cosmos.”
On the other hand, Vestager sees the limits of the legislature: “What we find difficult or impossible to get a grip on through legislation: that technology also steals a lot of time from us. It is particularly limited and valuable. If we spend more and more of this time in virtual reality, the risk of losing sight of friends and family would at least increase,” Vestager warns.
And the politician, who was once a role model for the Danish political series “Borgen”, is not only critical of the Metaverse. She is just as suspicious of TikTok, currently the world’s fastest growing social media platform – and in Chinese hands: “TikTok may not have implemented the General Data Protection Regulation really deeply. China’s political system is different from ours. For us, this is not democracy. We compete politically, economically and technologically,” says Vestager.
“On the other hand, we can’t fight climate change, for example, if we don’t have China on board.” Talking to the country about digital services is just as difficult as talking about foreign policy: “It’s about values, privacy, checks and balances, power and society,” says Vestager. “We still hope to be able to enter into a dialogue. It’s not easy. But we have to keep in touch.”