Margrethe Vestager is set to stay in charge of Europe’s competition policy as incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen unveiled her new team Sept. 10.
Vestager, Denmark’s appointee to the EU’s executive body, will also oversee the Commission’s agenda for a Europe fit for the digital age and will serve as one of its three executive vice presidents.
In a statement, the President-elect said part of Vestager’s remit will be to promote Europe’s role in the digital economy while also tackling its abuses.
“Digitalization has a huge impact on the way we live, work, and communicate,” said von der Leyen. “In some fields, Europe has to catch up—like for business to consumers—while in others we are frontrunners—such as in business to business. We have to make our single market fit for the digital age, we need to make the most of artificial intelligence and big data, we have to improve on cyber-security, and we have to work hard for our technological sovereignty.”
In a tweet, Vestager wrote she was “humbled by the task ahead.”
The commissioners, who have yet to be approved by the European Parliament, will take up their positions Nov. 1.
Vestager is widely regarded as a safe pair of hands and unafraid of tackling corporate giants head on for anti-competitive practices.
In 2016, she handed five of Europe’s largest truck makers—Iveco, DAF, Volvo/Renault, and Daimler—the biggest cartel fine in EU history after they admitted their part in a 14-year price-fixing scheme for their vehicles. Fined €2.93bn (U.S. $3.2 billion) between them, the penalty was more than double the previous record fine.
Since 2017, she has hit Google with three fines worth €8.25 billion (U.S. $9.02 billion) in total (the company is still in her sights over the way it operates) and during her five-year tenure has launched investigations into Facebook and Amazon. Indeed, Big Tech is very much on her radar, especially over concerns that Amazon and Google, for example, may be unfairly leveraging their own platforms for their own goods and services while demoting those of their paying customers.
While the competition portfolio is seen as one of the most prestigious in the Commission, it is also regarded as one of the most political, and Vestager is likely to face many challenges on several fronts—both within and outside of the European Union.
This year has seen France and Germany pressing for the bloc to soften its anti-monopoly and state aid rules to help European industrial champions compete with rivals from China and the United States. Both EU countries have said the bloc’s stringent competition rules are a relic of a bygone era and have raised concerns the single market is at risk of being undercut within its own borders by non-EU rivals as a result.
In February they released a “joint manifesto” that included proposed changes to the EU’s merger control rules, such as enabling the Commission to take a more “flexible” approach in its assessment of competition issues by contrasting global, current, and future market conditions, as well as allowing politicians in the Council of the European Union (a body that represents the governments of EU member states and has the power to challenge Commission policies) to override Commission merger control decisions in certain cases.
While France and Germany’s proposals lack wider EU support, Vestager is aware of the problem. “Control of subsidies is weaker outside the EU, and market access does not necessarily go both ways,” she has said.
The European Union is currently pushing the World Trade Organization (WTO) to strengthen the rules on subsidies and has started a dialogue with China on the subject.