BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Margrethe Vestager says that neither “loud people” in business and government nor “anti-Americanism” will sway her rulings on antitrust cases when she becomes the European Union’s new competition commissioner.
The Danish liberal, a free-trading economy minister at home until nominated to the incoming European Commission post, said she was determined to be a fair judge of corporate mergers and state aid for industries and would not be bullied by special pleading when she fears that Europe’s ability to create jobs and wealth might be weakened.
Speaking to Reuters before her confirmation hearing in the European Parliament on Oct. 2, Vestager would not comment on specific cases.
But asked about calls in Europe for incumbent commissioner Joaquin Almunia to take a tougher line with Google and other U.S. tech firms to curb their large shares of some markets, she cautioned against prejudice:
“I don’t think that any kind of anti-Americanism is well placed here,” she said. “What I think is important is of course to be neutral and even-handed and actually look at the cases and not at the origins of the companies.”
Some politicians, notably in Germany and France, and also some European companies have called for greater EU regulatory oversight of Google and other U.S. giants in various industries.
But Vestager, 46, who if confirmed will take over on Nov. 1 from her Spanish predecessor, said size alone was not enough for a regulator to go after a firm.
“I think it’s very important also to be loyal to the text of the (EU) treaty, which says that basically it’s not size that’s the problem,” she said. “It is if you misuse a dominant position that you do have a problem with the treaty and the fundamental values of the European Union.”
In recent weeks, international business lobbies have raised an alarm over a spate of antitrust investigations in China, which critics say is aimed at protecting its firms from foreign competition. Some in Europe, however, have also called for EU states to do more to protect their own big firms.
Not on Vestager’s watch.
“There are a number of ways to enable companies to compete globally,” she said. “But cushioning from competition is probably a wrong way to go, because there is very harsh competition in the global market. So you need to be able to handle that in order to be there.
“And being cushioned in a European context is hardly the way to get the kind of muscle that you need for global markets.”
Vestager said her upbringing and experience in the rough world of Danish multi-party politics would stand her in good stead for the kind of pressure that governments and global multinational firms will seek to put on her.
“I was brought up with a very strong value that you should always protect the few and the small against those who want to misuse their muscle and their weight in order to get what they weren’t supposed to get,” she said, looking ahead to a five-year mandate in what is one of the most powerful jobs in Brussels.
“Life in politics has taught me that there are some people who are very loud and put lots of pressure on but on the other side there are people who are silent and who are looking at you and hoping for you to be neutral and fair and even-handed.
“It is very important to have a very, very, very open ear to those who are not loud, who do not put pressure on.”
Vestager also said she favored reaching settlement of cases before they come to her for a final executive judgment, usually for reduced fines or negotiated concessions from the companies. Critics have complained that settlements have slowed the process of clarifying competition law.
Settlement, however, “does speed up things ... and enable cases to be closed rather than to be dragged over years and years,” she said, stressing the overall goal was to ensure “fair and strong competition in a European and hopefully also global context”.
editing by Jane Baird