Brussels There hasn’t been so much fuss about a Brussels personality for a long time. The appointment of American economics professor Fiona Scott Morton as chief economist at the EU competition authority has become a political issue before she has even started her job.
The uprising began last week with what appeared to be coordinated tweets from several French ministers. Among other things, Secretary of State Catherine Colonna called on the Commission to reconsider the personnel.
A letter followed from the European Parliament, signed by the leaders of the four main political groups. “One does not understand why non-EU citizens would be considered for such a “high-level and strategic position”, MEPs wrote to EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. On Tuesday Vestager has to justify her decision in the economic committee.
In addition to Scott Morton’s citizenship, critics cite potential conflicts of interest over her years of sideline work as a consultant.
In the past, the professor has advised large tech companies, including Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, which are particularly in the focus of EU regulators. As chief economist in Brussels, it would be her job to analyze the economic consequences of competitive decisions.
Fiona Scott Morton starts her job on September 1st
The agency is defending their election and expects Scott Morton to take up her job in September. Formally, the Commission can decide the personnel alone. The American was said to be the best of the eleven applicants.
In fact, Scott Morton’s competence is beyond doubt. She has been researching and teaching at the elite Yale University for more than 20 years and has made a name for herself as a regulatory expert. In 2011, she joined the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division for a year and a half. Her supporters argue that she brings unique experience because she knows both sides of tech regulation.
Observers in Brussels point out that the criticism is coming primarily from French politicians – and that French internal market commissioner Thierry Breton has had a long-running feud with competition commissioner Vestager.
Green MEP Rasmus Andresen said criticism of Scott Morton was marked by “blatant anti-Americanism”. She should get a fair chance to explain her work for the tech companies. Publicly, she has always spoken out in favor of stricter regulation. That sounds “promising”.
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The CSU MEP Markus Ferber is also open: “It is undisputed that Scott Morton is one of the best in competition law worldwide. The EU needs top personnel to be able to hold its own against the tech companies,” he said. But you have to find a way to manage the conflicts of interest.
The commission stipulates that Scott Morton will not be able to work on cases involving her former consulting clients for the first two years. This regulation affects a large part of her time on the post: the American only has a three-year contract.
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