Vestager will stay in Brussels, even without EU Commission presidency

EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager. [Photo: STEPHANIE LECOCQ / EFE-EPA]

Danish EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager will stay in Brussels for a second term, the Scandinavian nation’s new prime minister announced yesterday (26 June), even if she fails in her bid to become the next president of the European Commission.

Mette Frederiksen, Denmark’s newly-elected prime minister, said on Wednesday her compatriot had done a good job in Brussels and will be nominated for a second stint at the Commission.

Although still in the running to become the next president of the EU executive, Vestager’s position in Brussels was previously far from guaranteed given that she hails from a different political family to Frederiksen’s ruling Social Democrats.

The accepted logic until now was that no one in Copenhagen would stand in Vestager’s way if she were to be offered the Commission presidency. A simple renewal of her mandate was seen as less likely though.

But the uncertainty was dispelled by Frederiksen, who told Danish TV that Vestager had “done a really important job for the EU and therefore for Denmark”.

She “is allowed to continue as Danish Commissioner,” the new PM said.

When asked if she was tempted to name someone from the Social Democrats for the role, Frederiksen replied: “when it comes to international posts, then of course you have to look at if we already have a skilled Commissioner who has the chance to continue”.

“I can fully and completely defend as a Social Democratic prime minister that she is allowed to continue her work,” Frederiksen confirmed.

EU sources told EURACTIV that Vestager is likely to stick with the competition portfolio if she is nominated for a second Commission mandate, although industry or some form of vice-presidency could also be on the table.

Although Commissioner-elects require a green light from the European Parliament, the Dane’s widely acclaimed work over the last five years means she would almost certainly get the blessing of the EU assembly.

New Danish government puts climate change centre stage

Only a few days after the European Union failed to agree on 2050 carbon neutral climate target, Denmark’s Social Democrats and their three center-left allies agreed on Wednesday (26 June) on a political program that aims at promoting one of the most ambitious climate policies in the world.

The new prime minister, Denmark’s youngest ever at 41-years-old, will head to Brussels on Sunday (30 June) to attend her first European Council meeting with other EU heads of states and governments. The summit was called after last week’s inconclusive meeting failed to make progress on naming the next Commission chief.

Frederiksen said Sunday’s talks will be like a “game of solitaire” but stopped short of confirming whether she will push for Vestager to be appointed Commission president or take a more backseat role in the negotiations between leaders.

In a short reaction on Twitter, Vestager said “I am happy” and thanked the socialists for giving her the nod to stay in Brussels. Her Venstre party leader, Morten Østergaard‏, tweeted his congratulations too.

“I am so happy and proud that Denmark’s EU Commissioner […] is reappointed by Mette Frederiksen. It is a green, wise and loving choice for Denmark and Europe,” he wrote.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former socialist prime minister and the first woman to lead Denmark, also tweeted her praise of Vestager, saying she “will do a fantastic job”.

Thorning-Schmidt had been touted as a possible replacement for Vestager, given her political affiliation.

Trump: “She hates the United States”

Vestager was not in everyone’s good books on Wednesday though, as US President Donald Trump said in an interview that the EU is out of line in hitting American tech companies like Apple and Google with hefty fines.

“She hates the United States perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met,” Trump told Fox News, in a clear reference to the Danish official. “What she does to our country. She’s suing all our companies. We should be suing Google and Facebook, and all that, which perhaps we will.”

Political analysts say that Trump’s tirade against Vestager, who he has previously called the “tax lady”, has improved her chances of landing the presidency job.

Frederiksen’s blessing means that nine out of 28 Commissioner-elects are now known or at least more-than-likely. Bulgaria’s Mariya Gabriel, the Czech Republic’s Věra Jourová, Estonia’s Kadri Simson and Finland’s Jutta Urpilainen are the four other female appointees.

Hungary’s László Trócsányi, Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis, Luxembourg’s Nicolas Schmit and Slovakia’s Maroš Šefčovič are the other names already in contention.

It marks an already notable improvement on 2014’s batch of Commissioner-elects. Jean-Claude Juncker recently told German media that the first round of suggestions included just one woman. The Luxembourger’s Commission ultimately included nine female officials.

Gender balance becomes paramount in race for top EU jobs

Initial battle lines were drawn between member states over who will replace Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President on Tuesday (28 May) as EU leaders met to discuss “no names, just process”, in preparation for a decisive summit in June.

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