European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager
Brussels - AFP
Methodical and unyielding, Denmark's Margrethe Vestager inspired her country's hit television political drama Borgen well before she took on US Internet giant Google as the EU's powerful new competition commissioner.
She is bound to attract attention in the United States during her visit there on Thursday, a day after she announced Brussels had formally charged Google with abusing its search engine dominance and launched a probe into its omnipresent Android mobile phone operating system.
Vestager is tackling Google head-on, unlike her predecessor Joaquin Almunia of Spain who sought three times to reach a negotiated settlement with the Internet giant.
In laying out the charges against Google at Wednesday's press conference in Brussels, Vestager hewed to the line that she is fighting for consumers, companies of all national origins, and, above all, the facts.
"My goal is to ensure consumers and innovative companies can benefit from a competitive environment in Europe," Vestager said.
"My kids or myself never consider for a minute whether this is a European or a US company because Google has very good products," the married mother of three girls said, adding that one out of four companies complaining about Google's practices in Europe are American.
But she said: "Dominant companies have a responsibility not to abuse their dominant position.
"I will approach this... in a fair and objective way on the basis of evidence and in accordance with our rules," said the former Danish economy minister, who celebrated her 47th birthday on Monday.
- Fact-based investigation -
"This is an investigation based on facts," she added, before catching a flight to Washington where she is to hold talks with the American Bar Association.
The tall, striking Dane did not mince words when asked whether she was prepared to go as far as imposing a fine on Google that could amount to 10 percent of the company's global sales, or six billion dollars.
"Yes I think it is very important that every road is open, both when it comes to commitments but also when it comes to the other road, which is of course by the end of that, there is a fine."
Poised, instructive and to the point, Vestager embodies the character traits which led the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to give her the powerful and very sensitive anti-trust file, EU sources said.
After a scandal erupted in November over sweetheart tax deals granted to multinationals while Juncker was prime minister of Luxembourg, it was Vestager who announced the acceleration of probes into suspected tax avoidance cases in several EU member states, including the Grand Duchy.
The former president of the Danish Social Liberal Party is today one of the four heavyweights of Juncker's European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation bloc.
The three others are also women: Italy's Federica Mogherini, who is vice president and head of foreign affairs; Sweden's Cecilia Malmstroem, the commerce chief who is in charge of trade negotiations with the United States; and Bulgaria's Kristalina Georgieva, the budget commissioner.
All four independently manage their own portfolios, unlike the other commissioners who must answer to the vice presidents, which generates conflicts and resentment, several sources within the Commission told AFP.
The daughter of two Lutheran ministers, Vestager is known for her no-nonsense style. And those who know her warn that she is a formidable negotiator who never gives up.
Sometimes nicknamed back home as "Margrethe III," an allusion to Denmark's Queen Margrethe II, she became her country's first woman minister, at the age of 29, when she was named in 1998 to the education and ecclesiastical affairs portfolio.
And under her leadership, her party doubled its performance in the 2011 parliamentary elections.
Vestager has said she inspired the role of a prime minister who left power and regained it in the TV series Borgen, broadcast in many European countries.