Vestager campaigns on hostile French territory

EU Commissioner for competition Margrethe Vestager speaks during an ALDE event in November 2018.

Danish Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, a centrist figurehead and part of the future  Macronist European family, does not have support from the French government for the European Commission Presidency, for fear she will stand in the way of Michel Barnier. EURACTIV France reports.

On Monday (8 April), during a visit to Paris, Vestager defended her track record as Competition Commissioner on hostile territory.

Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire criticised the recent decision in Brussels to ban the merger of Alstom and Siemens. “It is a political and economic mistake,” he repeated.

“It is normal and sane to have a debate on this issue,” Vestager calmly responded before a small crowd of journalists.

She also reminded that over the five years, her team investigated 3,000 mergers and only vetoed five, including that of Alstom-Siemens.

Six takeaways from Siemens-Alstom rejection

The European Commission decided on Wednesday (6 February) to block the merger of Siemens and Alstom, meant to create a European champion in the railway sector, due to the negative impact it would have on the European market and consumers.

“In most of our merger investigations, we made requests on products and markets, to which companies responded positively. But not in this case,” noted the Commissioner. It has been said that France and Germany encouraged them to not comply, thinking they would, as always, pressure the EU Commission in giving in.

This was without counting the will of the EU Commission’s own iron lady and her capacity to persuade her fellow Commissioners. The person that fined Apple requires more admiration than anyone else in Brussels.

Call for more concrete actions for the next EU Commission

Asked by EURACTIV about her opinion of the current EU executive, Vestager said the team had made progress on the energy union, the digital market and the capital market, but also recognised the limits of the Commission’s actions.

“It is sometimes delicate to pass legislation: we propose, but then we need to implement, and for that, we need political support from the EU Parliament and the member states. Like in Denmark, as deputy prime minister, I did not necessarily know who would vote for the proposed texts,” she said.

Regarding her own candidature for the Commission Presidency, Vestager remained evasive, remarking that the EU Commission’s actions are more important than the people it will represented by.

“If we cannot agree on a solid common programme among institutions regarding big issues such as the environment, migration, or the dynamisation of economic growth, it will be impossible to make serious progress,” she warned.

Will Macron prefer a right-wing Frenchman or a Danish liberal?

In Paris, Vestager’s ambitions to preside over the next EU Commission are widely criticised because she is getting in the way of the French project to put a Frenchman at the helm of the Commission.

France is pushing for Michel Barnier to be the next Commission president, based on his role as the EU’s chief negotiator on Brexit. However, Paris would find it difficult to back Barnier, a politician from the EPP, instead of Vestager, who is closer to Macron’s political family.

In an interview with EURACTIV on the plans of the Renaissance list to change the name and scope of the centrist political group, ALDE, Vestager said it was “normal for changes to occur”.

French Macronists eye coup-like raid on Europe's liberals

Macronists want to push the political boundaries of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament after the May EU elections, going as far as suggesting a name change for the centrist party. But their gamble is far from being won, EURACTIV France reports.

Under French pressure, ALDE has not presented a Spitzenkandidat but has suggested a ‘Team Europe’ with candidates likely to take the top EU positions.

[Edited by Georgi Gotev and Benjamin Fox]

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