State aid hits spotlight as ‘Iron Lady’ replaces Monti

Competition lawyers have welcomed the appointment of the Dutch “Iron Lady” to the post of EU Competition Commissioner, where insiders think she will tackle the political hot potato of state aid.

Neelie Kroes, a member of the Netherland’s pro free-market political party VVD, will replace the incumbent Competition Commissioner Mario Monti in November.

Kroes, who has a reputation for toughness in her native country, served as minister for transport in the Netherlands in the 1980s, but also has considerable experience of working in the private sector.

Former commission official and Arnold & Porter Brussels partner Luc Gyselen said: “The blend of her public affairs experience and business life – she’s been on the board of several companies – means she can feel the pulse of business life.”

Herbert Smith competition partner Dorothy Livingstone added: “Broadly, I think it’s a fantastic appointment.”

Gyselen, who was formerly head of the food and pharmaceuticals unit at the commission, said: “I don’t think we’ll see dramatic differences from Monti. In style perhaps we will, but not in substance, because the policies are already well-defined. However, my best guess would be that if she wants to make one area her own, it will be state aid.”

Gyselen joined Arnold & Porter in June and has also headed the commission’s financial services directorate.

Monti presided over a turbulent period at the regulator, turning down the General Electric (GE)/Honeywell merger in 2001 and this year ruling that US giant Microsoft abused its dominant position. Kroes will face appeals from both GE and Microsoft when she takes office.