3rd Dec 2023

New Competition chief sets out tough credentials

  • Mrs Kroes ... no pussycat (Photo: European Commission)

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes on Thursday (9 December) dismissed claims that she is too close to business interests to be tough on anti-competitive behaviour as she blocked a proposed merger of Portugal’s main gas and electricity companies.

Defending herself against critics, Mrs Kroes said, "A couple of people suggested that I would hold back … that I wouldn’t take tough action against businesses that violate the Competition rules because I was too close to business interests … and that I would be some kind of pussycat".

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She continued, "the decisions [taken today] are hard evidence to the contrary … I promised that I would blow the whistle when needed and today I have put that into practice".

The Commission blocked the proposed acquisition of Portugal’s state-owned gas company GDP by its main electricity company EDP and Italian energy company ENI, saying the merger would have "resulted in higher prices for Portuguese consumers and industrial users".

It is the first time the EU has blocked such a merger deal in three years.

No pushover

Mrs Kroes was at pains to point out that she would be no pushover when it comes to clamping down on cartels and anti-competitive practices.

"The Commission simply will not tolerate that the benefits of the single market of Europe are denied to customers by cartels and anti-competitive practices", she declared.

"This decision shows I will walk the walk as well as talk the talk … there will be no pussycat here for the next five years".

The Competition portfolio is arguably one of the biggest jobs in the Brussels executive and many have questioned how Mrs Kroes will retain her impartiality after having sat on the boards of so many companies.

She has promised to remove herself from decisions involving companies with which she has previously been involved – this amounts to a "couple of cases", according to the Commission.

And in this case, Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso removed himself from involvement as his administration had initiated the deal when he was Prime Minister of Portugal.

New EU competition chief promises to be impartial

The incoming Dutch Commissioner has argued in a hearing with MEPs that her experience as a business women will be an advantage when she takes on the Competition portfolio later this year. But several MEPs have accused her of giving answers that were "vague and evasive".

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After only three days in office, Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes has decided to stand aside from five significant cases due to the conflict of interest caused by her previous business links.


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