I was trained as an industrial economist. For my discipline of origin, antitrust legislation and its application is the weapon of choice, because it studies large corporations and large corporation have an in-built incentive to collude (“competition is for losers”). Of course, antitrust became very difficult to do in recent decades, because most companies worth regulating transcend jurisdictions. I love the example of Goldman Sachs in the interactive visualization by OpenCorporates. Play with it, it’s sobering. As a result of this and other phenomena, hardline antitrust decisions have all but vanished in America. No company was forced to break up after AT&T… in 1984.
I have long believed that the EU finds itself in a privileged position, because it has stumbled across a way to regulate companies that are not in its jurisdiction. It is based on market access: “if you want access to 500 million relatively affluent people, you have to play by our rules”. Some past commissioners, like Monti and Vestager, were able to regulate American companies in the past. This is, IMHO, one of the strongest card that Europe possesses.
There have recently been calls to come down hard on some of the tech giants, as in “break them up”, not just fine them (one, two). The antitrust rationale is clear: their position is no longer contendible. Textbooks, in these cases, recommend breakup or a tightly regulated monopoly, possibly nationalized. What would happen if the EU told Facebook that it has to break up or stay out of the European market? Either way, it would be competition-enhancing: if it did break up, we would have two or three companies instead of one. If it did not, we would have spectacular growth of alternative services based on their access to a market where Facebook itself cannot operate.
This might seem extreme, but, I repeat, it’s actually industrial organization 101, and I find it worth considering.