15th Jun 2021

Vestager's assured performance

  • "Dominance as such is not a problem. Not in general and not under EU law" (Photo: European Commission)

It was an assured and even-handed performance from one of the most powerful officials in the business world.

Magrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition chief, fielded press questions for over an hour in Brussels on Wednesday (15 April) after formally announcing anti-trust charges against US internet search giant Google.

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It was a decision made in less than six months since the Dane, a former economy minister, took up the post. Her predecessor had grappled with the case for five years without taking the step.

The announcement could have been seen as a protectionist European move against a hugely successful US company.

France and Germany - notably its very own EU commissioner, Guenter Oettinger - have been publicly critical of the company, which they see as undermining their domestic publishers (Germany's economy minister was quick to praise yesterday's decision).

The European Parliament, for its part, recently passed a resolution asking the commission to consider breaking up Google.

But Vestager balanced the presentation of the facts against Google with praise for the company.

"My kids or myself never consider for a minute this is a US company or a European company. The reason we use it is that Google has very good products", she said.

"It's in our language. If you look for something you say, 'Let me Google it' I think you should congratulate a company that is so successful."

She also pointed out that US companies were among those who had made the initial complaints about the tech company and was matter-of-fact about the crucial question on whether the European Commission would go the whole way in pursuit of the case and to eventually fine Google.

It was an “open road” she said so it would be wrong to shut out the possibility of either a settlement or a fine.

She emphasized repeatedly the rule of law, while noting that Google’s dominance in online searches is not itself a problem: “Not in general, and not under EU law.”

She also laughed off a suggestion that she would ever meet US president Barack Obama, who has been critical of Brussels on this issue.

It was cleverly done.

Her down-to-earth style also marks her everyday work. She is known for disarming CEOs and journalists alike by coming to the waiting room to pick them up rather than having them ushered to her office. Those who have met her say she is accessible, while emphasizing fairness and rules.

Wednesday's decision was the first test.

Now she is in Washington and New York - in the lion's den, as it were - presenting her ideas, defending EU law, and likely answering allegations of protectionism.

Based on yesterday's performance she is likely to be able to smooth all but the most ruffled feathers.

In the still early days of Juncker's commission, she has emerged as the one to watch.

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