'Long overdue' for woman to lead EU, says contender Vestager

Brussels (AFP) –


One of the top contenders to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission said Friday it was long overdue to have a woman hold a top EU job.

Brussels is fast getting caught up in an EU "Game of Thrones", with a slate of key posts up for grabs soon, including leadership of the European Central Bank as well as EU Council President.

"It's long overdue to have a woman as head of the EU Commission," Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told AFP, in an interview.

"If you look at the precedents, you see that men have had their go," she said, speaking in her office at commission headquarters in Brussels.

A former finance minister from Denmark, Vestager is a favourite of EU insiders after her five year tenure as an anti-trust enforcer, taking on the likes of Google, Apple and Starbucks.

But she pointedly so far lacks the backing of her government in Copenhagen, a prerequisite for her future at the EU executive in Brussels.

Vestager said gender balance should be a criteria to fill the job openings, that will also include the 28 commissioner posts set for renewal in November.

"It is very important that we... show change visibly and fast," she said.

Imposing gender balance at the EU executive is often ignored by member states that nominate commissioners to Brussels for five years.

In 2014 Juncker, under pressure from the European Parliament, implored member states to pick women for the posts, offering those that did the more coveted portfolios.

He ended up with nine women and nineteen men in his commission.

Asked her opinion of Christine Lagarde, the IMF chief often rumoured for a political future at the EU, Vestager said that she was "one of my heroes".

Vestager was also asked about German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is discussed as a possible EU Council president, in replacement of Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister.

"Angela Merkel can be anything she wants to be, because for me she is 'omnicompetent'," she said, adding that the chancellor had led Europe out of the financial crisis.

Germans see "their own interest through a European prism," Vestager said.

"She is one of the people who embodies this."