EU competition commissioners serve fixed five-year terms. But European competition policy keeps chugging along. And so it has become a tradition in Brussels for commissioners nearing the end of their mandates to offer advice to their successors.
As former Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia prepared to head out the door in 2014, he expressed his hope that his successor Margrethe Vestager would ensure that “all national competition authorities can enforce EU antitrust rules with the same effectiveness.”
The Danish commissioner took his words to heart, working through her term to align national authorities, and this year she helped craft a compromise with other EU institutions on new rules to enhance the powers of enforcers across the 28 member countries.
Now it’s Vestager’s turn to try to steer some of the next commissioner’s agenda.
Emboldened by flagship cases against Google and Qualcomm, cyberspace is the main domain in which she’s seeking to make her mark.
Vestager in March appointed three digital experts to advise her on the challenges digitization could one day pose to competition policy. In July, she called on citizens to submit their views to the Commission by the end of September.
The initiatives should culminate in a January 17 competition conference and a final expert report, which is expected on March 31. Competition experts in Brussels expect its findings will shape Vestager’s advice to the next commissioner.
A European Commission spokesperson said that the main inheritance from Vestager’s years will be broader than digital, and should include her record of policing countries’ tax ruling practices through state aid rules and working to simplify state aid procedures. The spokesperson also said that an important part of her legacy should be conceptual, prioritizing “fairness” when interpreting the law.
The extent to which Vestager’s wish list will be implemented by her successor depends to a large extent on who will be in charge during the next Commission.
The Commission president plays a key role in both the appointment of the new competition commissioner and the writing of the agency’s overarching policy goals. And in his previous role as chief of staff to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the powerful Commission Secretary-General Martin Selmayr is said to have held the pen when the institution’s priorities were drafted. Vestager often refers to these priorities.
Intriguingly, Vestager has stated she would be keen to stay on to secure her legacy. The job description she is writing could be her own.
This article is part of the autumn 2018 policy primer.