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Margrethe Vestager named EU tech chief, retains competition powers

Margrethe Vestager, one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful critics, has been named as the European Commission’s first executive vice-president for digital policy in a reshuffle that sees her retain her powers as competition commissioner.

In the new dual role, Vestager will be tasked with overseeing digital policy, improving cyber security, managing data laws, regulating competition, capitalising on the rise of artificial intelligence and protecting the bloc’s technological sovereignty.

American observers are likely to interpret the appointment as a statement of intent by the commission’s new president Ursula von der Leyen. Vestager has already fined US tech giants billions of euros for breaching competition laws, in a series of interventions that Donald Trump has called anti-American.

Announcing the move, von der Leyen said: “Digitalisation has a huge impact on the way we live, work and communicate. In some fields, Europe has to catch up — like for business to consumers — while in others we are frontrunners — such as in business to business.

“We have to make our single market fit for the digital age, we need to make the most of artificial intelligence and big data, we have to improve on cybersecurity and we have to work hard for our technological sovereignty.”

Von der Leyen’s remarks reflect concern in Brussels that European sovereignty is under threat as the continent becomes increasingly reliant on technology created by overseas companies. The commission has solicited advice from industry experts and academics concerning artificial intelligence – the technology it’s most concerned about – but the plan is yet to be finalised.

In a tweet, Vestager said she was “happy for and humbled by the task a head – looking forward to work with new and well known colleagues in [the commission]”. She replaces Andrus Ansip, who previously served as commission vice-president and was in charge of the digital single market.