19 July 2018

Bloomberg: “The Eurocrat who makes Corporate America tremble”

A tall man rose and introduced himself as a banker. The EU has had trouble inspiring much affection among its citizens, he said. But here in Denmark, since Margrethe Vestager took over, the competition commission has become very close to people’s hearts. Shouldn’t the EU reach out more, to become similarly beloved?

It’s not in explaining the details or showing the process that you find acceptance, Vestager said. It’s in showing results, showing that it works. You don’t want to follow the baker in every step he’s taking. You just want to eat the pastry. We’re not asking people to love everything—just to love the big thing.

The EU’s best response to all this instability, particularly across the Atlantic, Vestager says, is to double down on its core values. I don’t think Europe should be defined by the U.S. administration. We have so much going for us. This is a great place. It’s a wonderful place to do business. In the choppy new world order, if the U.S. abandons its post at the tiller and retreats into itself, Vestager says, Europe can step forward to fill whatever vacuum might appear. There is no room for worry, no time to fret. I think it’s more an obligation to be an optimist. Pessimism will never get anything done.

Samanth Subramanian

Another old article, but this seems a good time to share it, since Margrethe Vestager just delivered another verdict against Google, fining the company over the bundling of Google services on Android devices. In a world where American tech giants are causing all sorts of havoc with their ‘disruption’ mindset – or simply evading tax bills on a scale rarely seen before – it feels good to have a clear, level head with the power to investigate their practices and hold them accountable, even if the process is long and complicated. I particularly like her quote in the closing of the article, even as my own views are more pessimistic.

Vestager’s European Commission office in the Berlaymont building in Brussels is large, comfortable, and awash with light. Her desk faces a window; she prefers to conduct meetings across a long table that bisects the room. Atop a side cabinet are dozens of framed photographs of her family: her husband, who teaches high school mathematics, and their three daughters. A cloud of cloth butterflies—made, she says, by Tibetan orphans—is pinned to the back wall. Her Fuck Finger is the centerpiece of a low coffee table.

The Finger—a fist with an upraised middle digit, cast in white plaster—is one of many aspects about Vestager that have become totemic during her rise to fame, known widely but also imprecisely. It’s commonly believed to have been sent to her by an infuriated Danish union when, as minister of the economy, she was pushing for austerity. The unionists actually gave it to her in a little ceremony of passive-aggressive respect at her office. She thanked them for participating in democracy, and they all drank beers and Cokes.

Samanth Subramanian

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