Denmark’s Vestager reappointed EU competition commissioner

Denmark's Margrethe Vestager was on Tuesday named as competition chief in the new European Commission, retaining the role she has held for the last five years in which she has clashed repeatedly with US tech giants.

Denmark's Vestager reappointed EU competition commissioner
Margrethe Vestager. Photo: Aris Oikonomou/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

The hard-charging former Danish minister for economics and the interior gets a beefed-up remit under new commission President Ursula von der Leyen, as vice-president charged with building “a Europe fit for the digital age”.

In addition to continuing as competition commissioner, Vestager, a former leader of the Danish Social Liberal party, becomes deputy chair of the commission’s digital section.

During her time as competition chief, the Danish politician has issued huge fines to American IT giants including Google.

“It’s more than six months since I said I wanted to be competition commissioner again. At the time, people said ‘no, that can’t work’. But right now, things work,” she told Danish broadcaster DR.

Vestager, who had been in the running to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the commission, also said that she was “very very humbled” to be given added responsibility for digital issues.

The European Parliament must approve the commissioner team presented by Von der Leyen on Tuesday. Candidates are to attend hearings at the parliament, which will then vote on whether to approve the commission as a whole.

Although candidates are often switched before final approval of the commission, Vestager passed the hearing stage without any problem when she was last nominated to the commission in 2014.

The European Commission’s power comes from its status as the only body which can propose new EU laws. That can occur at its own initiative or at the request of member states, MEPs or national parliaments. The European parliament then negotiates proposed laws with EU ministers from member states.

The Commission is also responsible for ensuring member states adhere to EU rules. It includes commissioners from each of the union’s member countries.

READ ALSO: Angry Apple takes swipe at ‘Dane of the Year' Vestager

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Denmark to cut wait for family reunion after losing European court case

Denmark is to reduce the amount of time refugees need to wait before apply for family reunification after The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the current "three-year rule" was excessive.

Syrian refugees protest outside Denmark's parliament against Denmark's decision that the area around Damascus is now 'safe'.
Syrian refugees protest outside Denmark's parliament against Denmark's decision that the area around Damascus is now 'safe'. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

In a press release issued on Friday, the country’s immigration ministry said that it would next year submit a bill amending the country’s immigration law, or udlændingeloven to reduce the length of time refugees need to wait before applying for family reunion from three years to two.

But the new law will also contain a clause allowing Denmark to bring back the “three-year rule” at short notice if there is a refugee crisis.

“I of course regret that the verdict went against Denmark,” Mattias Tesfaye, Denmark’s immigration minister, said in statement, adding that he was nonetheless “relieved” that the court had deemed a two-year wait acceptable, and had also left open the possibility of longer waits during periods of extremely high refugee numbers.

“We are working hard to keep our refugee numbers at a record low, but if we today have a situation similar to 2015, we want to be able to lift the limit from two to three years. That is a good tool to have in our toolbox.”

The so-called MA case was brought by the Syrian doctor Mosalam Albaroudi, who arrived in Denmark in 2015 and then five months later applied for family reunification with his wife and was rejected.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled on July 9th that the reason for the rejection of his reunification visa was a violation of human rights.

The case concerns a controversial change to Denmark’s laws in 2016, when Denmark’s Parliament (Folketing) passed the so-called “three-year rule” that required refugees to wait three years before applying for family reunification.

That’s why Albaroudi’s application was denied a residence permit for his wife. The decision was upheld by Denmark’s Supreme Court in 2017.

Albaroudi and his lawyer, Christian Dahlager, believed the decision violated the European Convention on Human Rights, and so they continued their efforts to overturn the ruling.

The Convention states that everyone has the right to privacy and family life, and that an authority can restrict this right only if it is necessary in a democratic society to protect a number of essential interests of society. It applies to members of the Council of Europe, to which Denmark belongs.

In its decision, the European Court of Human Rights stated that Denmark’s three-year waiting period has not “struck a reasonable balance between, on the one hand, the applicant’s interest in being reunited with his wife in Denmark and, on the other hand, society’s interest as a whole in being able to control immigration in order to protect the country’s economic well being, to ensure effective integration and to maintain the cohesion of society.”

Sixteen judges voted in favor of Albaroudi, and one judge abstained. The court also awarded Albaroudi compensation of 75,000 kroner.