Thursday 29 September 2016

Newsmaker: European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager

Published 07/12/2015 | 02:30

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager

Danes voted for "less Europe" last week, rejecting government-backed proposals for greater integration with fellow member states in areas including policing and security.

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But one Dane powering ahead with an integrationist agenda is European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

Seen as a free-trade liberal when she was appointed last year, the 47-year-old former economy minister has emerged as a champion of the Commission's centralising authority.

As the Danish votes against adopting EU measures aimed at stopping cross-border crime were being counted, the country's nominee to the European Commission, and holder of one of its most powerful posts, was asserting the primacy of Brussels's authority.

On Friday, Ms Vestager's office rejected a request from Britain's national regulator to be allowed to probe the competition implications of Three Mobile owner CK Hutchison Holding's takeover of Telefonica's 02.

The Commissioner said the EU regulator is the body best placed to manage the process, because it can ensure consistency in the application of rules across the union.

On Thursday, Ms Vestager launched an investigation into fast food giant McDonald's' tax affairs in Luxembourg, widening a probe that has already taken in Fiat, Starbucks and Apple, in Ireland and the Netherlands.

Her latest moves fit with her wider approach, but the extent of Ms Vestager's authority in relation to tax is not yet clear. Brussels has no authority when it comes to how countries set tax policy. Finance Minister Michael Noonan has even claimed the probe into tax paid in Ireland by Apple is politically motivated, vowing to appeal any findings against Ireland.

Nevertheless, on Ms Vestager's watch, the Commission has taken a big leap into the area. But, citing potential abuse of state aid rules, an area that is overseen by the Commission, Ms Vestager is ramming open the previously closely guarded frontiers of national tax sovereignty, even if her fellow Danes seem keen to keep other barriers intact.

Margrethe Vestager

Irish Independent

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