Business as usual for EU antitrust regulators despite Vestager's absence

European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager holds a press conference in Brussels

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Companies being investigated for anti-competitive practices or billion-euro deals will continue to face rigorous EU scrutiny despite the temporary absence of antitrust supremo Margrethe Vestager, officials and industry executives said on Thursday.

Vestager took unpaid leave last week in a bid to become the first woman president of the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank (EIB), which doles out millions in loans, guarantees and equity investments to countries.

Her antitrust portfolio, which include ongoing investigations into Alphabet's Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta Platforms and Microsoft, was subsequently assigned to EU justice chief Didier Reynders.

The Belgian commissioner will decide on Photoshop maker Adobe's $20 billion bid for Figma, Amazon's $1.7 billon acquisition of robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot, and other high-profile deals.

His dossier also includes alleged cartels involving Volkswagen, Renault and other carmakers; between perfume manufacturers Givaudan, Firmenich, International Flavors & Fragrances, Symrise; and between fashion companies.

EU antitrust enforcers won't be going soft under Reynders, said a senior Commission official.

"Don't expect a caretaker commissioner to change the policy line. I don't expect wild things in the coming weeks. We have a framework in which we operate, established by Vestager," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"We don't have time to start a new policy."

Another senior Commission official concurred, saying cases are driven very much by the process, with no changes expected in coming weeks.

For one major company already in the Commission's crosshairs, Vestager's absence was definitely not a topic of conversation in its office.

"Literally I haven't heard a single person mentioned it. She's only going to be gone a few weeks," an executive said, referring to speculation on Vestager's low chances of securing the EIB job and subsequent return to her post.

Another company which faces regulatory heat was unfazed with the situation.

"Cases are moving, it's very process driven, the Commission services can move things along regardless of who is the competition commissioner," said an executive.

The Commission said it "seamlessly continues to develop and enforce competition policy."

Lobbying group DigitalEurope, which represents more than 45,000 businesses operating in Europe, decline to comment.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by David Holmes)