Reading the headlines about Margrethe Vestager might lead you to believe that she’s technology companies’ worst nightmare. “The Bureaucrat Who Has Tech Terrified” reads one Fortune piece from 2015. A more recent Wired story pits her directly against the U.S.’s digital giants: “Europe vs Silicon Valley: Behind Enemy Lines With the Woman Deciding Google’s Fate.”
It’s true that Vestager, the European Commission’s antitrust chief, regulates commercial activity across Europe, thereby making her one of the continent’s most powerful women. As Wired‘s Rowland Manthorpe puts it, “No other watchdog has Vestager’s powers to prosecute tax avoidance, levy multi-billion-dollar fines or force companies to make wholesale changes to their operations.”
Vestager flexed that power Tuesday, hitting Google (GOOG) with a $2.7 billion fine—the biggest one ever imposed on a single company in an antitrust case. The search engine’s crime? Favoring some of its own shopping services over those of rivals. It has 90 days to stop doing so or face yet another penalty.
Google isn’t the only U.S. tech firm the Commission is pursuing. Vestager has already charged Apple (AAPL) with $14.5 billion in back-taxes and is also currently looking at cases against Amazon (AMZN), Qualcomm (QCOM), and Facebook (FB). (Some are accusing Europe of unfairly targeting American companies; officials deny that.)
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Despite her power as commissioner, Vestager’s biographer Jens Thomsen says she tries hard to remind people of her humanity. “She’s trying to use every meeting to create the impression that she’s not only a representative of the commission, but also an individual personality,” he told Manthorpe.
Here are a few interesting tidbits about Vestager, the woman:
- She grew up in a small town called Ølgod on Denmark’s west coast.
- Her parents were both Lutheran rectors; her father was a local politician in Denmark’s Social Liberal Party (SLP).
- She has been a professional politician since age 21, when she was appointed to the central board and executive committee of the SLP.
- She became Denmark’s education minister by age 30; she became party leader a decade later.
- She has been considered by Danish media and pollsters as the most powerful person in their government. (She—not ex-Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s female PM—is widely considered to be the inspiration for the protagonist in the political drama Borgen, the Danish equivalent of House of Cards.)
- Her love of knitting and baking is a major topic of discussion on Danish social media.
- Her husband, with whom she has three daughters, is a high school teacher.