Danish MEP Morten Messerschmidt filed a complaint with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday (1 June), after Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager backed her Social Liberal Party’s election campaign over the weekend. Messerschmidt suggests Vestager breached EU rules that ensure Commissioners’ independence.
Over the weekend, Vestager took part in her party’ executive committee meeting in Denmark, as part of the Social Liberals’ election campaign. Denmark has a general election on 18 June, and Vestager’s party is part of the centre-left government coalition, together with the Social Democrats. After the meeting, Vestager made a positive statement regarding the Social Liberals’ new proposal on taxes for home owners.
“I think it is problematic that a Commissioner is actively involved in an election campaign,” Messerschmidt, who is a member of the right-wing Danish People’s Party, told the tabloid Ekstra Bladet.
“She’s not a Commissioner for the Social Liberals, but for the EU as a whole. This is evident in the rules that say that Commissioners should not join election campaigns and be associated with a political party,” Messerschmidt continued.
In the guidelines for Commissioners, it says that they have an independence principle, which means that they should shy away from publically speaking on behalf of political parties or unions of which they are members.
Asked about whether she had come to Denmark to support the Social Liberals, Vestager said:
“I always support them, no matter where I am. But of course I’m drawn to the first executive committee meeting during the election campaign, because when your heart is Social Liberal, then it doesn’t matter where you are. Then you go home to show your support,” she said.
Messerschmidt said he would write to Juncker, “since I thought Vestager cared about law and order, it is not okay that she promotes individual parties in an election campaign”.
Commission spokesperson Mina Andreeva said at a press briefing on Monday that she was unaware of the letter that Messerschmidt sent to Juncker.
“More generally, I think we have had the opportunity to explain in the press room that Commissioners are indeed political figures and they have a right to have political opinions. The right balance is of course between a Commissioner’s political opinions and origins, and the obligation stemming from his or her mandate is subject to regular discussions between the Commissioner and the President.”
According to their oath of office, Commissioners are required to remain above national politics while exercising their duties in the Commission to maintain independence.
However, that requirement has slowly been eroded as the institution has become more politicised. For example, during the Romano Prodi Commission, Anna Diamantopoulou (Employment and Social Affairs) took leave from the Commission to participate in the2004 Greek elections and resigned when she won a seat, despite her party losing.
Prodi campaigned in the 2001 Italian elections, while still president.
- 18 June: General elections in Denmark.
- Ekstra Bladet: Messerschmidt complains over Vestager: You are breaching EU laws [In Danish]