Paris urges Brussels to rethink choice of American for key EU post

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French Digital Minister Jean-Noel Barrot on Thursday called on the European Commission to reconsider the appointment of American Fiona Scott Morton to a key post linked to the regulation of US tech giants.

The EU executive announced Tuesday that Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale University economics professor, would serve from September as the new chief economist at the commission’s antitrust unit.

“When Europe is embarking upon the most ambitious digital regulation in the world, the recent nomination of chief economist for the Competition (department) has raised legitimate concerns,” he said in a tweet, calling on the European Commission to reconsider its choice.

The unit is charged with ensuring that EU markets remain competitive — including ensuring that US tech titans do not abuse their market dominance, which has already seen them served record fines.

Scott Morton served as deputy assistant attorney general for economics at the US Department of Justice’s antitrust division in 2011 and 2012, where she was in charge of the economists who investigated mergers.

That role, as well as work consulting for tech firms such as Apple and Microsoft, has sparked criticism about Scott Morton’s appointment from across the French political spectrum.

“Hiring a US lobbyist for the GAFAM when Europe has finally decided to limit their power… is at best clumsy, at worst dangerous,” said conservative French Eurodeputy Geoffroy Didier, using an acronym for US tech companies Google, Amazon, Meta (Facebook), Apple and Microsoft.

– ‘No European’? –

He called on the Commission to rethink her appointment, which comes as the EU needs to implement new legislation to regulate the sector.

“We didn’t fight tooth and nail to regulate the GAFAM to hand the job of implementing the rules to one of their lobbyists. No way,” said centre-left Eurodeputy Raphael Glucksmann.

Ecologist lawmaker Yannick Jadot called Scott Morton’s appointment a violation of ethics and a scandal.

A spokeswoman said the Commission had thoroughly looked into whether any of Scott Morton’s ties would compromise her independence.

To avoid any conflicts of interest, for two years she would not handle any issues she had responsibility for in the year before accepting the position, the spokeswoman added.

Scott Morton will serve as an advisor to Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager on economic issues, the spokeswoman added.

A lawmaker from French President Emmanuel Macron‘s Renaissance party, Benjamin Haddad, called the decision to hire Scott Morton inexplicable.

“No European national had the needed experience?” he tweeted.

The Commission said it had opened the job to non-EU candidates due to the very specific skills being sought and that Scott Morton had the best qualifications and experience among the candidates.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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