THE HAGUE -- Europe's next competition commissioner should be well-prepared to deal with auto retailing issues.
Neelie Kroes is a former Dutch transport minister with strong connections in Brussels and in the European business community. She is a board director of Swedish truckmaker AB Volvo.
Pending approval from the European Parliament, Kroes, 63, will take over from the current commissioner, Mario Monti, on November 1.
"Although she does not have any experience with typical competition matters, she could be the right person for the job," says Arnold Koopmans, vice-president of the Brussels-based European auto dealers association, CECRA.
"She grew up in a business environment, and should understand dealer needs," Koopmans says.
The main automotive issues on Kroes' agenda will concern the new block exemption rules aimed at liberalizing European auto retailing.
Those rules took effect last year and there is still a wide range of problems with their implementation. Under the new rules, automakers have had to relax their hold on dealers and repairers. But many dealers say they continue to be at a disadvantage in their relations with automakers.
CECRA's Koopmans said that when dealers meet with Kroes in early November, they will raise issues such as direct sales by automakers, the high standards imposed by carmakers on dealers, and automakers' role in establishing dealer locations.
Kroes hasn't spoken out on any competition or automotive issues recently. Those who know her say that, as a longtime conservative politician, she will likely stand by her strong free-market convictions.
In an interview with Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad earlier this month, she said: "I entered politics because I had concluded that it would become very difficult for the Netherlands without a free market."
"She knows business life very well and I know Kroes is straight and firm in implementing her mission," said Karel van Miert, who succeeded her as president of the Nijenrode business school. Van Miert was EU competition commissioner from 1994 to 1999.