President-elect of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced yesterday that Margrethe Vestager has been designated to be the next EU Commissioner for Competition.

Profile

Margrethe Vestager, 46, is Denmark's former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economic and Interior Affairs. She has been a member of the Danish Parliament since November 2001, and is a former leader of the centrist Danish Social Liberal Party.

Margrethe Vestager is a trained economist with a master's degree in economics. During Denmark's EU presidency in 2012, she led talks with European economy and finance ministers on a series of responses to the global financial crisis. She has direct business experience, having held a number of company board positions.

Areas of focus

In a "mission letter" to Margrethe Vestager, Jean-Claude Juncker has asked her to focus on the following:

  • Mobilising competition policy tools and market expertise so that they contribute, as appropriate, to the jobs and growth agenda, including in areas such as the digital single market, energy policy, financial services, industrial policy and the fight against tax evasion.

  • Pursuing an effective enforcement of competition rules in the areas of antitrust and cartels, mergers and State aid, maintaining competition instruments aligned with market developments, as well as promoting a competition culture in the EU and world-wide.
  • Maintaining and strengthening the Commission’s reputation world-wide and promoting international cooperation.

Jean-Claude Juncker urges her "to keep developing an economic as well as a legal approach to the assessment of competition issues and to further develop market monitoring in support of the broader activities of the Commission". It will be interesting to see how the suggestion to continue to develop economic approaches will translate into practice, as the economic assessment of competition issues by the European Commission has been controversial in the past, and has led to criticism on occasion from the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The College of Commissioners has been revised to include six Vice-Presidents with powers to lead project teams and to steer and coordinate the work of Commissioners. Margrethe Vestager has been asked to liaise specifically with three newly created Vice-President posts above her. These are Jyrki Katainen, the Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competiveness; Andrus Ansip, the Vice-President for the Digital Single Market; and Alenka Bratusek, the Vice-President for Energy Union. Whilst this structure is a break from the past, it is yet to be seen whether this change will make any difference in practice. It seems unlikely that the change will significantly affect the day-to-day handling of cases. Review and direction by the Vice-Presidents may lead, however, to greater weight being applied to additional considerations, such as the impact of intervention on jobs, growth, and investment.

Ditte Juul Jørgensen has been selected as Margrethe Vestager's Head of Cabinet. She comes from outside DG COMP, and has been Director for multilateral trade policy and law issues in the European Commission's Directorate-General for Trade since 2012.

Appointment process

The European Parliament now has to give its consent to the entire College of Commissioners, including the Commissioner for Competition.

Before this, the Commissioners-designate will appear in individual hearings before Parliamentary committees. It is expected that the hearings will take place between 29 September 2014 and 9 October 2014. Three hours are allocated to each hearing and include a 15 minute opening speech by the Commissioner-designate, followed by a long Q&A session and a short closing speech by the Commissioner-designate.

Jean-Claude Juncker has signalled his intention to have the new Commission in place on 1 November 2014. Future agenda

Margrethe Vestager's agenda as Commissioner for Competition is likely to become clearer during her hearing at the European Parliament. It can be expected, however, that the European Commission will continue vigorously to investigate and sanction competition law infringements. The new Commissioner will have to address a number of on-going matters inherited from her predecessor, Joaquín Almunia. These include investigations into Google, manufacturers of automotive parts, and banks. On the legislative front, proposals to extend the scope of application of the EU Merger Regulation to non-controlling minority shareholdings will also be an early item on the agenda.