In an announcement made on 10 September 2014, the President-elect of the next European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxemburg, unveiled his team and announced that Margrethe Vestager from Denmark will replace Joaquin Almunia as the EU Commissioner for Competition. Ms Vestager is to take office in November, subject to confirmation by the European Parliament.
The new Commissioner and her agenda will have a significant impact on business in the European Union in the upcoming years. The EU Commissioner for Competition is one of the most powerful figures in Europe because this role has the ability to review deals, impose fines for cartel behaviour or abuse of dominance (monopolisation) and order the recovery of illegal subsidies.
Ms Vestager is Denmark’s former deputy prime minister and held the post of Minister for Economic Affairs and the Interior until September 2014. She previously served as Minister for Education and Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs.
Ms Vestager has been a member of the Danish Parliament since 2001 and has led the “Radical Left” Party, Denmark’s Social Liberal Party, since October 2011. She served as chairwoman of the Parliamentary Group from 2007 to 2011 and has been a member of the Central Board and the Executive Committee of the Social Liberal Party, and of the European Affairs Committee since 1989.
With a master’s degree in Economics from the University of Copenhagen, Ms Vestager has gained substantial professional experience in financial and economic affairs. She was head of the secretariat of the Danish Agency for Financial Management and Administrative Affairs until 1998, after having worked for two years as a special consultant with the same agency. Prior to this, she worked for two years as head of section at the Danish Ministry of Finance.
During Denmark’s EU presidency, Ms Vestager led the other European economy and finance ministers in talks on a number of legislative responses to the global financial crisis and tighter scrutiny of the budgets of the Eurozone governments. In early 2012, she negotiated an agreement on the principle of imposing losses on banks’ investors in case of failure (burden sharing). This formed the basis for the European Union’s policy on government bank rescues and the accompanying legislation. She also brokered the first deal among ministers to overhaul bank capital requirements and won approval for a law to safeguard derivatives markets.
Likely Policy and Agenda
Ms Vestager is expected to focus her work as EU Competition Commissioner on energy, financial services, the digital sector and tax evasion. She will continue the Commission’s work of pursuing cartels and antitrust infringements, reviewing mergers and ensuring that State subsidies do not harm competition. She will also continue some of the high-profile cases that will still be pending when the current Commissioner leaves office.
President-elect Juncker has urged her to “Keep developing an economic as well as legal approach to the assessment of competition issues and to further develop market monitoring in support of the broader activities of the Commission”.
Ms Vestager has already stated that her focus will be on legal certainty, fairness and transparency of competition law enforcement. Political commentators have suggested that she will be less influenced by an overarching political agenda in her handling of competition policy and is likely to instead focus on the objective facts, a thorough analysis of and a pragmatic solution for each case.
The European Union’s competition policy will also be influenced to some degree by the new structure of the Commission, under which several portfolios are grouped together under the supervision of a number of Vice-Presidents. It is likely that the Vice-President supervising the Directorate General for Competition will therefore also play a role, alongside Ms Vestager, in shaping the Commission’s competition policy.