Margrethe Vestager’s uncertain future in Brussels

During her mandate, Magrethe Vestager has made life tough for the GAFA companies. [Parlement européen]

Four years spent fighting against the monopoly of the US digital giants have given Margrethe Vestager political prominence. But due to a lack of support from Copenhagen for a second mandate, the competition Commissioner is expected to leave Brussels after the elections. EURACTIV France reports.

Vestager will probably not be part of the next European executive. The popular Danish Commissioner, who made a name for herself in Juncker’s Commission for her robust action against the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) companies and tax evasion, has not gained the support of her country’s government to return to Brussels after the European elections in May 2019.

“My native member state doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about giving me another mandate,” she acknowledged at a press conference at the Representation of the European Commission in Paris on Wednesday (3 October).

Vestager’s political party, the Danish Social Liberal Party, is now in opposition. “The tradition in my country is that it is the biggest party in government that names the commissioner,” she pointed out. This position makes Vestager’s return to Brussels after the European elections in May 2019 very unlikely.

Vestager: 'I’d like a Facebook that I pay, with full privacy'

In an exclusive interview, the EU’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, told EURACTIV.com that the US social network Facebook is on her radar screen but not the e-commerce giant Amazon, which is also suspected of abusing its dominant position.

During her four years in Brussels as commissioner for competition, Vestager has gone after the monopoly of American digital giants, such as Google, Amazon and Apple. In late June 2017, she imposed the first European fine on Google for abusing market dominance, slapping a €2.42 billion fine on its online shopping service.

In July 2018, a new record €4.34 billion fine penalised Android, the free operating system developed by Google. The system’s near-monopoly prevented the competition between search engines and browsers in the mobile internet sector.

Moreover, the investigations by Brussels will not stop, as Vestager stated that its services were currently investigating the restrictions imposed on third-party websites with respect to displaying its competitors’ adverts (the AdSense case).

Both Amazon and Apple have been penalised by Vestager on the fiscal front. Accordingly, Apple was ordered to pay back €13 billion of taxes to Ireland, while Amazon was required to repay €250 million in tax arrears to Luxembourg.

Despite the Commissioner’s unprecedented measures, Europe’s digital market remains under the tight control of the GAFA companies. “The market share is more or less the same today as it was four years ago,” Vestager acknowledged. “But I think that the European entrepreneurial ecosystem is more dynamic than it was a decade ago.”

“We are still on the road to opening up the digital market, but we aren’t there yet,” she recognised.

Spitzenkandidaten

Seen by some as a potential candidate to lead the Commission under the guidance of Emmanuel Macron, Vestager confirmed that her party had been in contact with La République En Marche. “But I am not personally,” she explained.

At the moment, LREM has not yet revealed the name of the candidate to head its list for the European elections, maintaining its lack of transparency over its future European political affiliation.

While its proximity to the liberals of ALDE – the European party to which Vestager also belongs – seems obvious, a formal alliance in the context of the European elections is far from a sure thing.

Will Weber take a hammer to Facebook's social media monopoly?

EPP MEP and lead candidate for Jean-Claude Junker’s job as the next European Commission president, Manfred Weber, threw down the gauntlet on Friday (28 September), suggesting that he may support a breakup of Facebook and Whatsapp.

With a few months to go until the European elections, there is not exactly a rush of declared candidates for the top Commission post. At the moment, only the German Manfred Weber, the current chair of the EPP group at the European Parliament, and Alexander Stubb, the former Finnish prime minister, have officially declared their candidacy for the centre-European party (EPP), which won the last elections in 2014.

The lack of enthusiasm for the race to be president of the European Commission is partly due to the weakening of the Spitzenkandidaten (lead candidate) system. This system, a novelty in the 2014 European elections, was imposed by the European Parliament on the EU leaders but now seems to have little support.

“What bothers me about the Spitzenkandidaten system is the automaticity it imposes on the nomination process,” Vestager pointed out. “I believe that the most important thing for these elections is knowing what we want for Europe for the coming five years,” she added.

Stubb: A Macron-style candidate against the conservative Weber

The former Finnish Prime Minister, Alexander Stubb, wants to defend European values within the right-wing, and this approach may split the European People’s Party a bit more. EURACTIV France reports.

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