Margrethe Vestager’s chances of getting reappointed as Europe’s antitrust boss just got bleaker.
Vestager needs the Danish government’s approval be renamed as competition commissioner — a job she’s said she wants to retain when the Commission rolls over in 2019.
But despite a poll showing that most Danes would like Vestager to remain in the role, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has poured cold water on the idea.
“Looking at the history books, there appears to be a fairly solid Danish tradition that the parliamentary majority’s group appoints a commissioner,” Rasmussen said in a podcast recorded by Danish online publication Altinget.
Rasmussen was underscoring the fact that — so long as they remain in power — he and his party need to give explicit backing to a new Vestager bid.
Yet he offered no such support, instead pointing out that Vestager’s Social Liberal Party was not part of the ruling majority.
“I do not know if the Social Liberal Party is planning to become part of the majority behind the government,” he added.
The comment was rhetorical. As the sixth largest party in the Folketing, Denmark’s parliament, Vestager’s social liberals are nowhere near power. For now Rasmussen’s conservatives are in power, backed by the hard right.
Denmark must hold general elections by mid-June at the latest — around the time nominations are made.
Peter Hummelgaard, an MP with the Social Democrats, the largest party in the Danish Parliament but currently in opposition, in turn played down the chances that his party would re-nominate Vestager.
No place like home
The irony is that Vestager has plenty of support outside of the Danish parliament.
A poll by Norstats for Altinget published Thursday found that 67 percent of respondents wanted her to stay on for a second term as commissioner.
Emmanuel Macron is also a fan. The French president told MEPs late last year that he could see the frank-speaking liberal as the Commission’s first female president in 2019 — a vote of support that Vestager herself has not embraced, dismissing it as a rumor.
And yet, without support at home, Vestager may get nowhere.
The selection process for European commissioners is firmly controlled by national capitals, which put forward candidates for commissioner positions. So Vestager would have to fight hard for support in Copenhagen in order to win another term in Brussels.
Quizzed about the chances that Vestager’s bid could be scuttled, supportive MEPs voiced dismay.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen | Julien Warnand/EPA
“I am deeply disappointed and rather shocked,” said Sven Giegold, an influential Green MEP from Germany, about Rasmussen’s comments. “I think quality should come before party politics. Vestager has deserved a second mandate.”
There is little doubt that the commissioner could use more time in her current position. She’s gained a global reputation thanks to high-profile cases against Google, Gazprom and Apple.
But she will struggle to wrap up certain cases before a new Commission comes into office in late 2019, while other major decisions are still before EU courts.
“I have started certain cases which will be ruled on by the European Court of Justice in the next mandate and I want to be responsible,” she told L’Opinion earlier this month. “Of course, we are expecting to win, but you never know for sure.”
One alternative to the nomination process is making a move for the Commission presidency. In that case, it’s likely that Vestager would need to be selected via the Spitzenkandidat process, which would crown the candidate put forward by the political group that wins the most seats in the European Parliament election.
But Vestager’s liberals have little chance of emerging as the biggest bloc.
The Spitzenkandidat process has powerful opponents — including Macron and Rasmussen.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article described the Spitzenkandidat process incorrectly. It’s been updated to clarify the process.