Europe’s ‘Digital Diplomat’ prepares to face an onslaught of legal action from US tech giants.

The European Union is bracing for an onslaught of lawsuits from the largest tech companies, according to a report in Bloomberg News. The complaints will be filed by the likes of Alphabet, Amazon, Meta and Apple, focussing on the incoming rules that will change how the industry operates.

“We’re not naïve”, Gerard de Graaf, a top EU official focused on regulations for digital platforms told Bloomberg News in his first interview with a US media outlet since opening the EU’s office in the heart of Silicon Valley last month. “There will be litigation.”

During his previous posting in Brussels, De Graaf oversaw the passage of the Digital Markets Act, a recently enacted EU law designed to prevent technology giants from using their power to disadvantage smaller companies. De Graaf also oversaw the creation of the DMA’s companion measure, the Digital Services Act, which will require the companies to combat illegal and harmful online content. Both measures are slated to take effect next year.

Seeking to ‘protect democracy’

The companies need to decide the “kind of relationship” they want to have with their European overseers: an adversarial dynamic where they challenge every move regulators make, or a more collaborative approach, said de Graaf. “We would prefer that challenge is the exception rather than becoming a new rule.”

De Graaf, who started in his new post in September, said he’s not planning to be Europe’s “policeman on the ground” in San Francisco. Instead, he hopes to play a diplomatic role, helping to create substantive relationships with tech industry executives, consumer advocates and state officials as they sort through the EU’s sweeping set of new rules. One of his primary tasks will be to help guide the companies through questions they have about how to comply with the DMA and DSA.  

The largest tech companies have complained that the DMA and DSA are vaguely written and overly burdensome, saying that the laws lay out a series of “do’s” and “don’ts” without much explanation around how they should implement the changes. “I don’t like the word ‘burden’ in the context of what we’re trying to achieve”, de Graaf said. “We’re trying to protect our democracy.”