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EU Antitrust Regulators Maintain Vigilance Despite Vestager’s Absence

 |  September 14, 2023

The absence of Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s head of antitrust for the past decade, will not hinder the rigorous scrutiny faced by companies under investigation for anti-competitive practices or billion-euro deals, according to officials and industry executives on Thursday.

Vestager, who recently took unpaid leave in pursuit of becoming the first woman president of the European Investment Bank (EIB), has temporarily handed over her antitrust portfolio to EU justice chief Didier Reynders. Despite this transition, ongoing investigations into tech giants such as Alphabet’s Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta Platforms, and Microsoft will continue as before, reported Reuters.

Reynders will be responsible for deciding on high-profile deals, including Adobe’s $20 billion bid for Figma and Amazon’s $1.7 billion acquisition of robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot. Additionally, he will oversee investigations into alleged cartels involving car manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Renault, as well as perfume and fashion companies.

Related: Vestager Steps Down, Reynders Takes Charge of EU Competition Policy

Contrary to concerns that Vestager’s absence may lead to a change in policy, senior Commission officials have reassured that the antitrust enforcers will remain steadfast under Reynders. An anonymous official stated, “Don’t expect a caretaker commissioner to change the policy line. We have a framework in which we operate, established by Vestager. We don’t have time to start a new policy.”

Another senior Commission official echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that cases are driven by a well-defined process, and no significant changes are expected in the coming weeks.

Major companies currently under investigation have shown little concern over Vestager’s absence. One executive stated, “Literally, I haven’t heard a single person mention it. She’s only going to be gone a few weeks,” referring to speculation surrounding Vestager’s chances of securing the EIB job and subsequently returning to her post.

Similarly, another company facing regulatory scrutiny remains unfazed, noting that the Commission’s services can continue to progress cases regardless of the competition commissioner in charge. “Cases are moving, it’s very process driven,” said an executive.

The European Commission has assured that it will seamlessly continue to develop and enforce competition policy during Vestager’s absence. The lobbying group DigitalEurope, representing over 45,000 businesses operating in Europe, declined to comment on the matter.

Source: Reuters