BRUSSELS — Margrethe Vestager is already having a busy 2016.
Ms. Vestager, the European Union’s competition commissioner, is expected to move ahead in the coming months in the antitrust case she filed against Google, in which she has accused the company of favoring some of its own services in search results over those of rivals. The current charges, listed in what is known as a statement of objections, are just one in a number of competition-related headaches that the search engine may face this year in Europe.
Her aggressive positions have made the 47-year-old Danish politician — said to be among the inspirations behind “Borgen,” a critically acclaimed TV show described as Denmark’s answer to “The West Wing” — a poster child for Europe’s somewhat combative relationship with United States tech giants.
Ms. Vestager sat down with The New York Times last week to discuss her priorities for the year, the issues underpinning her competition investigations and whether she unfairly targets American companies. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
■ What are your plans for 2016?
What’s obvious is that it’s not just important to open cases, but important to close cases, too. But as some of the antitrust cases we have ongoing are huge, that’s not necessarily going to happen in 2016. I expect in the merger field we will keep busy, and we’ll keep our focus on antitrust and state aid issues.
■ The first anniversary of the statement of objections in the Google case is fast approaching. Have your thoughts changed on the issues at play?
Since we aren’t done yet, we can’t yet go through the different elements of the statement of objections. But Google gave us a very substantial answer, and what we need to do is ask them for more data to have a comprehensive picture so they aren’t just giving us data that solely substantiates their position.
It’s a huge task. We’re doing our best with the analysis, but it’s also interesting to see how legitimate third parties [that have filed complaints in the case] also look at it.
■ Are you disappointed you haven’t moved the case forward?
I have learned that to do antitrust at this volume takes the patience of steel. Speed is itself a quality because we have big companies whose names are being mentioned over and over again, so you have to think about that.
But speed isn’t a quality unto itself. You can’t substitute justice with speed. You need to be able to say this will hold up in court. Then, speed is a secondary issue.
■ The current charges against Google are just one of many antitrust issues you’re looking into at the company, including its role in advertising, as well as Android, its mobile operating system. Do you see a common thread?
That depends. Other complaints related to online mapping or local search are similar, as they say Google uses its position to promote itself in neighboring markets. That is very similar to the current statement of objections.
Then we have issues that are different in nature. One is scraping [allegations that Google copies content from other sites]; another is the question of advertising [claims that Google abuses its dominance in advertising contracts]; and then we have Android, which is almost another planet. We will become much wiser as we go in-depth in these areas.
It’s not black or white. The questions people have been asking are whether data can be duplicated, and can a competitor establish itself in the same way or buy a copy of another’s data?
So far, the analysis shows that data can be copied or newly created without any detrimental effects to competitors. That’s why I have approached this area with a very open mind.
■ So there isn’t a competition problem because many companies have access to people’s data?
That doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem.
But I still think Adam Smith was right when he said there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Eventually, you will pay in one form or the other. And it’s that “other” that is still hard to grasp because we are just in the process of truly appreciating the value of our own data.
■ You’re Europe’s competition, not tax, authority. So why are you getting involved in tax cases linked to potential abuse of state aid?
National tax legislation and European state aid rules need to be fulfilled at the same time. For me, it’s a simple question of fair competition.
Companies compete door to door with similar products, prices and services. If one company has higher costs and another company has lower costs solely because of aggressive tax arrangements, then you have a problem.
■ For many American companies, particularly in the tech sector, there’s a sense that Europe is targeting them. What’s your response to that?
There’s a lot of convenience in that argument. I’ve been asking my people to give me the statistics to find a bias, and I can find no bias. Not in the mergers, not in the fines being paid out, there’s no U.S. bias. It also ignores the fact that we often react to complaints from U.S. companies.
These are huge companies that play a very strong role in the market. But you still have many, many, many more companies that are on their way, that want to make it into the market, and that need open markets for the incentive to innovate.