By Nikolas Spanoudakis
Until five years ago I didn’t know her. Although she has had a long career in Danish politics, she was a complete stranger to me. But then gradually she started to attract the attention of the media for some good reason. Thus, when the editors of Uttryck asked their writers to write an article about their favorite female leader in light of the International Women’s Day, she came immediately to my mind. Her name is Margrethe Vestager and she is the outgoing European Commissioner for Competition. Surprised by my choice? Let me tell you why she has caught my attention.
In the so called “western societies”, and in other societies too for that matter, markets play a very central role in people’s life. You go to a market whether you want to buy your food, clothes, mobile phone or any other service. With the dawn of the digital era, markets have also invaded our homes. It is no longer necessary to leave your comfortable couch to do your shopping, and this is an indispensable part of our lives. Whether the “markets’” economy is good or not is a huge debate that I am not going to discuss here. I tend to believe that when markets work well, they empower the citizens, the consumers, because competition allows them to enjoy good services and products. However this is not always the case. When certain companies grow and become dominant, they often take advantage of their position to either create monopolies or make profits at the expense of ordinary people. In this case, it is important that there are some regulators who can hold accountable those companies which break the rules. This role has been meticulously carried out by Margrethe Vestager. Actually, after thorough investigation, Vestager had the guts to issue fines of billions of euros to Google for exploiting their dominant position and to Apple for tax evasion. Her latest firm decision was the rejection of the merger between Alstom and Siemens, a merger that would have created a harmful, competition-devouring giant in the European railway market.
But Vestager’s job is not only meaningful in economic terms. As we are not only consumers but also citizens, we need political institutions that can stand up for us and improve our lives. However, political institutions do not run on autopilot. Rather, their orientation and impact vary depending on who is in charge. In this context, it is important that Vestager has taken full responsibility as regulator to scrutinize the practices of certain multinational companies. This process is important because when companies only care about their profits, their practices can undermine the quality of a democracy. Liberal democracies work well when everybody is equal before the law. Although some people may think scrutinization should be a national competence, it is rather doubtful whether small countries with budgets many times inferior to that of for example Apple, would dare to carry out such a process. Thus, thanks to Vestager, European citizens know that they can rely on the European Commission to defend their interests before enormous multinational companies. This doesn’t mean that Vestager and her colleagues have done everything right. But democracy works well when politicians like Vestager lead political institutions to act as safeguards of it.
Soon Vestager’s mandate comes to an end. In fact the European elections on the 23d – 26th of May will elect a new European Parliament which will lead to the appointment of a new European Commission. Vestager says that she would be happy to continue as Commissioner for Competition. But some rumors promote her as the new President of the Commission. I would be delighted to see her as Juncker’s successor, because she is a skillful leader and thus we need her. #ThistimeImvoting for a member of the European Parliament who would support Vestager’s candidacy as President of the Commission. How about you?
Nikolas Spanoudakis graduated from a master in chemistry for renewable energy and ever since sustainability is a key aspect of his life. But quite recently he realised that he has to fight for another important element in his life: the European Union. Thus, he decided to become a little champion of the EU. The result is doubtful but he is sure that the cause is good. Let’s see what happens!
Cover photo by Merle Ecker.