Big Tech's UK Antitrust Cop Steps Down With Job Not Quite Do...| MENAFN.COM

Monday, 26 September 2022 04:32 GMT

Big Tech's UK Antitrust Cop Steps Down With Job Not Quite Done


(MENAFN- The Peninsula) Bloomberg

The UK's top antitrust watchdog stepped down this week after a nine year tenure that saw him elevated by Brexit to be one of the world's most powerful regulators but he leaves with unfinished business reining in the excesses of Silicon Valley.

Andrea Coscelli, an academic and economist who headed up the Competition and Markets Authority since 2013, ended his term after helping to steer the agency out of the European Commission's shadow, armed with new powers to oversee global deals and an incentive to pick battles with Big Tech.

Coscelli's biggest decisions include stopping the proposed 2019 merger of J Sainsbury Plc and Asda into what would have been the UK's biggest grocer, to being the first watchdog to try and force a tech firm to unwind a completed deal when Meta Platforms Inc. bought GIF-maker Giphy. 

As chief executive, he widened the CMA's international reach; saying no to Sabre's proposed acquisition of airline booking rival Farelogix Inc., and securing limits on the stake that Amazon.Inc was allowed to take in Deliveroo.

'He really elevated it to be a global watchdog for good or for bad,” said Nicole Kar, head of London-based law firm Linklaters LLP's UK antitrust practice, who worked on the Asda and Sainsbury's deal.

'Entrenched' Power

All the while, Coscelli grew the agency's workforce and infrastructure by more than half, managed to convince the board to set up a pioneering data unit, and was one of the first to point out the 'entrenched” market power of Big Tech.

The CMA's pharmaceutical cases and 'setting up of the data and technology teams, which now many other agencies globally are following,” were among his best achievements, Coscelli said in a recent interview with Bloomberg.

The Italian has been steadfast in his attempt regulate the world's biggest technology companies -- a flagship pursuit that came to dominate his agenda. He oversaw the creation of proposed new tech regulation, while using existing powers to open new probes into the likes of Alphabet Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

Yet his lofty goals to tackle tech giants didn't quite amount to lasting sweeping changes at a legislative level. Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government backed away from giving the Digital Markets Unit full powers, a new offshoot that would police the biggest tech companies. The unit has been forced to continue in shadow form for now.
'World's Policeman'

A more interventionist approach by the CMA under his leadership also become a sticking point among some in the global business community, with critics saying it has overreached its role by turning into the 'world's policeman.”

'There's some relief in the ecosystem that he's going,” said Camilla de Coverly Veale, a policy director at The Coalition for a Digital Economy, a group that supports digital startups.

But Coscelli rejects the notion that the CMA has not been business-friendly under his tenure. 'Every intervention has winners and losers so obviously some of the losers will complain -- but that's us doing our job,” he said.

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Coscelli has won the government's backing for the CMA, increasingly on its consumer aims. He secured budget increases from the central government over his six years, with £130.5 million ($157 million) promised by 2024-2025.

'If this was the world of competitive sport then he would be MVP,” the Most Valued Player, said William Kovacic, a George Washington University antitrust professor and former Federal Trade Commission chair who previously served as a non-executive director at the CMA. 

The CMA's new chief is currently being recruited by the government. Sarah Cardell, the watchdog's top lawyer, has taken over the CEO role in an interim capacity. 
Coscelli now has plans to pursue roles in the private sector, which he hopes to be able to announce by October, after fourteen years in public roles.

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