EU Commissioner of Competition Margrethe Vestager gives a joint press on Antitrust : Google online search advertising at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 20, 2019. - The EU's powerful anti-trust regulator slapped tech giant Google with a new fine on March 20, 2019 over unfair competition, in Europe's latest salvo against Silicon Valley. (Photo by John THYS / AFP)JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
Margrethe Vestager wants the EU to focus on issues such as climate change, cyber security and immigration © AFP

Margrethe Vestager has tossed her hat in the ring to be the next president of the European Commission by agreeing to be part of a pro-EU, liberal campaign in the European parliamentary elections.

The EU competition commissioner is among the seven-strong “Team Europe” that Alde, the centrist political group in the EU parliament, picked to spearhead its campaign in elections taking place in May.

In addition to Ms Vestager, Alde’s team includes Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister, and Luis Garicano, an economist and member of Spain's centrist Ciudadanos party. Ms Vestager’s inclusion ends months of speculation about her ambitions to fight for Brussels’ top job. 

Speaking at the launch of Team Europe on Thursday, the Danish commissioner said she wanted the EU to focus on issues such as climate change, cyber security, immigration and jobs for the new generation. “These issues are quite more important” than the distribution of jobs in Brussels, she said.

Unlike its rival centre-right and centre-left parties, Alde has not picked a single lead candidate — or Spitzenkandidat — to take part in the race to succeed centre-right European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. Instead, its roster of candidates will rotate during a series of televised debates in the run-up to the May 23-26 vote.

The race to succeed Mr Juncker is expected to be protracted this year because hopefuls will need to command majority support from the new European Parliament, where mainstream parties are set to lose out to new and old anti-establishment forces. Manfred Weber, a German MEP, is running for the centre-right, while Frans Timmermans, Dutch EU commissioner, is running for the social democrats. 

Alde is projected to be the third-largest group in the new European Parliament and is eyeing a coalition with Emmanuel Macron's La République en Marche to create an alliance to push for more European integration.

The French president’s party will not campaign with Alde, but officials from both parties say a joint Alde-En Marche group — with about 100 MEPs — will be formed after the elections. Stanislas Guerini, LREM’s chief, attended Alde’s campaign launch on Thursday.

Ms Vestager has publicly supported Mr Macron's “Renaissance” EU election platform and said she felt a “strong” affinity with the French president’s plans to revive the EU. “[En Marche] have a reform perspective and they completely integrate national democracy and the European democracy,” said Ms Vestager.

Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister, praised Ms Vestager as a “principled politician” who would be accomplished at “any job”.

“I would feel very secure in a situation where she would lead in any capacity,” said Mr Rutte, who had been rumoured to be a possible liberal candidate for the commission but denied he had any ambitions to move to Brussels. 

“I’m staying in the Netherlands. I already have a top post: prime minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and being a member of the European Council. And I love it,” said Mr Rutte.

Other member of the Alde top team include Nicola Beer, from Germany’s liberal Free Democrats; Emma Bonino, former Italian foreign minister; Violeta Bulc, Slovenia’s EU commissioner; and Katalin Cseh, from Hungary’s Momentum party. 

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