Margrethe Vestager, the long-time scourge of tech giants and rate-rigging banks, has stepped aside from her role as the European Union’s competition commissioner after her bid to lead the European Investment Bank became formal.
(Bloomberg) — Margrethe Vestager, the long-time scourge of tech giants and rate-rigging banks, has stepped aside from her role as the European Union’s competition commissioner after her bid to lead the European Investment Bank became formal.
Under EU rules, the Dane has to take a temporary leave of absence that could be made permanent if she is confirmed as the new president of the bloc’s lending arm — a job scheduled to start on Jan. 1 following the departure of incumbent Werner Hoyer.
“I will take unpaid leave from the European Commission to focus on my candidacy,” Vestager said in a statement on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter.
Vestager, who is seen as one of the leading candidates to oversee the Luxembourg-based bank, with annual financing last year totaling more than €65 billion ($69.7 billion). She faces stiff competition for the EIB post from Nadia Calvino, Spain’s deputy prime minister and an ex-EU competition policy official. Former Italian finance minister Daniele Franco is also considered a front-runner.
EU member nations will approve the appointment and the decision could come as soon as mid-September when the bloc’s finance ministers meet in Spain to discuss the names currently on the table.
Justice commissioner Didier Reynders will take over Vestager’s competition duties until EU commissioners break up for the European elections, which take place in June 2024. Vera Jourova, the commissioner for values and transparency, will be promoted from vice president to executive vice president, taking over Vestager’s role dealing with other institutions.
During her 10-year tenure as EU competition chief she has slapped Alphabet Inc.’s Google with more than €8 billion in penalties for a string of anticompetitive practices related to its search business, mobile operating system and display adverts, while also calling for the company to sell its profitable advertising technology arm.
She told Apple Inc. to pay €13 billion to Ireland’s government over an allegedly illegal tax break — which Apple boss Tim Cook slammed as “political crap.” She’s also spearheaded probes into how bank traders swapped information in chatrooms.
Despite protestations from France’s President Macron and former German chancellor Angela Merkel, Vestager also blocked a €15 billion railway deal between French company Alstom SA and Germany’s Siemens AG in 2019 and also stood against a £10.25 billion deal between CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. and Telefonica SA’s 02.
When Illumina Inc. bypassed regulatory approval from Brussels on its $7 billion acquisition of cancer-test provider Grail Inc., Vestager told it to unwind the deal and slapped the biotech firm with a €432 million penalty.
After the EU was hit by successive economic crises during the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine, Vestager faced pressure from French and German governments to loosen the purse strings on Europe’s economy.
She was forced into ushering in wholesale reforms to the bloc’s state-aid framework — allowing national governments to pump more cash into their ailing European industries, ultimately to the benefit of larger economies.
Vestager’s potential departure from Brussels also follows the rollout of new antitrust rules for the digital economy in the form of the Digital Markets Act, which lays out dos and don’ts for the world’s largest tech platforms. She has also ushered through new checks and balances on foreign cash into the EU, with rules that combat anticompetitive subsidies from third countries.
Her leadership of the EU’s powerful competition portfolio was however recently tainted following a public outburst from Macron over her appointment of American academic Fiona Scott Morton to the prestigious role of the commission’s chief economist.
If unsuccessful in her bid for the EIB presidency, Vestager could find herself lacking political backing for another role commensurate with her high EU profile. Her party is not currently in government in Denmark, leaving her few options to return to Copenhagen.
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