Karel Van Miert: Eurocrat who took on big business as Competition Commissioner

Karel Van Miert was born in Oud- Turnhout, the eldest of nine children of a
Flemish farming family. From 1962 to 1966, he studied at Ghent University
gaining a degree in diplomatic sciences.

From 1968 to 1970, he worked for the Belgian National Scientific Research
Fund, and lectured in international law at the Free Universityof Brussels
from 1971 to 1973. He served as assistant to Henri Simonet, vicepresident of
the European Commission from 1973 to 1975, and was a parttime lecturer on
European institutions at Vrije University, Brussels, from 1978 to 1994.

In 1976 he was elected national secretary of the Belgian socialist party.

When the Socialists split along linguistic lines, in 1978, he took over as
chairman of the Flemish socialist party, until 1988. He also served as a
member of the European parliament (1979-85) and a Belgian MP (1985-89), and
was a vice president of the Socialist International for six years, from

In 1989, Van Miert was appointed European commissioner responsible for
transport, credit, investment and consumer policy. In 1992 the environment
was added to his responsibilities.

From 1993 until 1999 he served as vicechairman of the European Commission and
was responsible for competition policy. He trod in the footsteps of Sir Leon
Brittan, the Conservative free-marketeer with whom he had clashed earlier by
supporting state subsidies for transportation. For this reason, and because
of his socialist origins, some doubted Van Miert?s commitment to the
free-market cause.

He was not afraid of making enemies. He infuriated the German chancellor
Helmut Kohl by vetoing a proposed digital television joint venture between
the Munich-based Kirch Group and the huge media company Bertelsmann AG. He
caused anger in Paris by forcing the French government to sell off assets
worth $113bn of the failing bank Credit Lyonnais in exchange for his
approval of Paris?s expensive effort to salvage the bank in preparation for
privatisation in 1999.

He also managed to annoy Americans, including President Clinton, when he
objected to Boeing?s purchase of McDonnell-Douglas, which finally took place
in 1997. And then in 1998 he alienated some of his German colleagues when he
imposed a record fine on Volkswagen for requiring its Italian dealers not to
sell their cheaper products to German or Austrian customers.

Just as he had surprised some when he became a commissioner, he shocked others
when he retired. The European Socialist Party President Poul Nyrup
Rasmussen, commented on his death, ?Karel Van Miert will be remembered as a
great socialist politician who campaigned relentlessly to promote social
democratic values in Belgium and in Europe.?

Some of his old comrades were not convinced. When he left the Commission he
joined the boards of 15 organisations across 10 industries, among them
Anglo-American plc, Philips Lighting BV, Vivendi Universal, RWE,
Agfa-Gevaert NV, and Goldman Sachs. He also he taught at Nijenrode
University, the major Netherlands business school.

A football enthusiast, Van Miert spent many hours with his local club.

He was also a keen gardener. He is survived by his life partner, the fellow
socialist politician, Carla Galle.

David Childs

Karel Van Miert, politician: born Oud- Turnhout, Belgium 17 January 1942;
died Beersel, Belgium 22 June 2009.

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