European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager poses after an interview with Reuters at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 10, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Margrethe Vestager has been known to want another term as European competition commissioner © Reuters

All EU countries should nominate both a man and a woman candidate to improve the gender balance in the next European Commission, Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s antitrust enforcer, said of a move that could also make it easier for the Dane to return to Brussels.

“It would be good if all member states nominated both a man and a woman to be able to compose a diverse commission,” Ms Vestager said in Brussels last week. “When we appoint at home [Denmark] for advisory boards, we normally suggest both a male and a female because we want a balance.”

While improving the gender balance in decision-making roles has been an ambition for the EU, only nine of the current 28 EU commissioners are women. Research has found that diversity improves decision making and establishes a role models for future generations.

Ms Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner who has taken on the likes of Apple, Google and Gazprom, is seen as a possible successor to Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president whose term ends next year. However, any path to that job faces significant hurdles in both Brussels and Copenhagen.

In 2014, Mr Juncker became commission president using the spitzenkandidaten process that nominates the chosen candidate from the most popular political group in the European Parliament. Ms Vestager is unlikely to win the top job under that mechanism as she belongs to ALDE, one of the smaller parliamentary groups.

Of the spitzenkandidaten process, Ms Vestager said she does not like the “underlying automation”. “I think it makes sense for people to put forward some candidates that they find could do the job. Only thereafter should the Council and the Parliament take a position,” she said last week.

She has been coy about the president position but is known to want another term as EU competition commissioner. To be considered for either job she would need to be nominated by Denmark’s prime minister, currently Lars Lokke Rasmussen.

Mr Rasmussen has half-jokingly said the only way he would support her candidature is if her Social Liberal party backed his government in national elections due in the spring. Polls point to an almost 50-50 split between the left and right, making the vote — which has to take place before June — too close to call.

Observers say there is also little love lost between Ms Vestager and Mette Fredriksen, the Social Democrat leader who could beat Mr Rasmussen to become prime minister. A Danish official said he thought the chances of Ms Vestager being nominated again to the commission “as almost zero”.

There are also whispers in Copenhagen that Mr Rasmussen could be a plan B to replace Donald Tusk as president of the European Council if the favourite, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, does not get the job. “He is well liked in Brussels and known for speaking his mind,” said one Danish official.

Ms Vestager’s suggestion of two commission nominees per member state would not only help improve the commission’s gender balance, it could also open up a second nomination spot for her alongside Mr Rasmussen or another Dane.

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