The 59-year-old Dane was one of the dozen original members of the court when it was set up in 1989 to relieve the overburdened European Court of Justice. Since then he has guided the lower court's evolution into a key center for dispensing EU justice. Appointed president in 1998, he has presided over scores of precedent-setting competition and intellectual-property cases and managed the court's growth to 25 judges representing the countries of the expanded EU. Vesterdorf gained notoriety in 2002 when the court overturned three EU competition rulings in five months. Recently he made news in the EU's antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. (MSFT
). In a toughly worded December decision he turned down the company's request to stay EU penalties pending appeal.
It wasn't always clear that Vesterdorf would rise to fame. He nearly skipped college in the '60s to become a jazz musician and later worked as a travel guide and a stagehand for the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. But his father pushed him into law, and Vesterdorf found his calling at Denmark's Ministry of Justice before being tapped for the Luxembourg job. "We have contributed greatly to the legal protection of citizens and companies in Europe," he says. And along the way, created an indispensable European institution. By Andy Reinhardt