The appointment of US President Barack Obama’s former senior antitrust official to a key position in the European Commission related to the regulation of US technology giants has caused a storm of outrage in France, French newspaper Sud Ouest wrote on July 13.
Earlier this week, the European executive announced that American Fiona Scott Morton, an economics professor at Yale University, had been selected as the new Chief Economist of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition. Her position will put her in charge of, among other things, investigating abuses by digital giants, of which the majority were American.
This appointment came when the EU faced the challenge of passing new legislation to regulate the sector, so it couldn’t help but draw criticism againt Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. For many European officials and members of the European Parliament, this decision on her part was perceived as a gift to the USA, which once again confirmed her pro-American stance.
“Digital regulation is a key issue for both France and Europe. This appointment deserves a review by the commission,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna reacted on Twitter on July 13.
In France, in addition to Colonna, two other members of the country’s government have publicly expressed surprise at the choice. She was supported by Secretary of State for European Affairs Laurence Boone. For her part, she has begun consultations on the matter with Secretary of State for Digitalization and Telecommunications Jean-Noël Barrot.
“Hiring an American lobbyist for GAFAM (American IT giants), at a time when Europe has finally decided to limit their power, was the height of perfection. This appointment is awkward at best, dangerous at worst. The European Commission should reject it,” said French MEP Geoffroy Didier (Les Républicains).
A Commission spokeswoman clarified that Fiona Scott Morton’s new role was as an advisor on economic issues to Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. Therefore, before her appointment, the European Commission “thoroughly examined whether she has any personal interest such as to impair her independence or any other conflict of interest” and would take measures to tackle an actual or potential conflict of interest, as the EC spokeswoman commented.
However, this has not reassured European officials. For one of them, the appointment of an American woman to the post was a gift given by von der Leyne to the USA, probably in exchange for an office in NATO. Many were surprised that it was done unnoticed by the other members of the European Commission and without discussion at a meeting of the board of commissioners. In addition, the appointment, as the official noted, did not specify Scott Morton’s US citizenship. Although, as Laurence Boone noted, Europe has always had many talented economists of its own.
Fiona Scott Morton worked as a senior antitrust official in the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice from May 2011 to December 2012, as well as a consultant to major US technology companies such as Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.
Source: Rossa Primavera News Agency