She’s the woman who took on Google and Apple and Starbucks… The European competition commissioner – and inspiration for the Borgen TV series – discusses her fight for fairness against powerful corporate interests
In the unhinged 18 months since the EU referendum was called, I’ve listened to and made many arguments about the folly and hubris of Brexit, but I’ve never encountered any argument quite as compelling as the simple presence of Margrethe Vestager. I met Vestager (pronounced Vest-ayer) in her office on the 10th floor of the curvy cross-shaped Berlaymont building in Brussels, home of the European Commission. The office is light and bright, with a desk facing a window, which spans the length of the room. There are modernist paintings on the wall beside a wooden stepladder (“If a woman wants to go places she should bring her own ladder”, she likes to say) and, on a low table, a white cast of a human hand with an upraised middle finger – an ironic gift from a Danish trade union. For the last two and a half years, this has been one of the few offices in the world in which billionaires fear to tread.
As European commissioner for competition, Vestager regulates commercial activity across the EU and, with her team of 900 investigators she has, since she arrived in the post in 2014, apparently been conducting an experiment in what a new world order – or at least a freer and fairer globalised market – might look like. The daughter of two Lutheran pastors from the flat and marshy Danish coast of Jutland, she tries to work with a simple liberal philosophy in mind: “Politics should give all people opportunities and enable them to make free choices.”