Fiona Scott Morton was recently appointed as chief economist in the Commission's Directorate-General (DG) for Competition by European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager. This started a series of complaints by numerous French politicians based on the fact that she is American and has been a consultant for American tech giants.

Given Margrethe Vestager's record of fining giant multinational companies, it seems strange that she would nominate someone who might be soft on them. Also, the fact that the complaints come mostly from one country only makes me think that some other realpolitik reasons might be at play.

Are my doubts justified? If yes, what could be other reasons for France opposing this nomination?

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    Note that her nomination was critized in other EU countries as well, here is the German Tagesschau on the matter: tagesschau.de/ausland/europa/eu-scott-morton-100.html . Note also that Miss Morton already resigned from the position precisely because of these conflicts of interest: tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/weltwirtschaft/…
    – quarague
    Jul 21, 2023 at 6:08
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    @quarague According to his letter, she resigned because she felt she could not do it's work without the full backing of the EU. No mention of conflict of interest. twitter.com/vestager/status/1681544527352410113?s=20
    – pinpon
    Jul 21, 2023 at 12:44
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    That is essentially the same thing including the nice wording common for these kind of things. Some senior EU people said they wouldn't be able to work with her because they think she has conflicts of interest. Then she resigned because she isn't able to work without backing from the EU. No contradiction here.
    – quarague
    Jul 21, 2023 at 18:42

4 Answers 4

  • Macron has since his election tried to build a startup nation to make France competitive toward the US in the tech sector. Having a European representative that has an history of defending companies part of GAFAM could be seen as a foreign interference trying to kill this project in the egg (rightfully in my humble opinion).

  • French political context is very favorable to sovereignism. Accidents during COVID crisis and US subsidies for its economy (which is experienced as a trade war in France) has made the French public and politics very mistrustful toward the US. The nomination of Fiona Scott Morton had made the front page of French newspapers for the last week reinforcing the feeling of foreign interference in the French public.

In this context if Macron didn't involve himself, it would have been seen as a sign of weakness, and his authority has largely been contested in the domestic political context (see here and here).

All the above reasons could in part explain France's hostility toward Fiona Scott Morton nomination.

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    Sovereignism and antiamericanism are probably part of the reason. What I do not understand from your answer is how the startup environment would be threatened by antitrust. Especially because Vestager is certainly not soft on GAFAM who could threaten such startup environment.
    – pinpon
    Jul 19, 2023 at 14:55
  • I guess they don't want it to be the spear head of a larger american involvement in European internal policies. If you allow an american chief economist, even though her authority is subordinate to anothers juridiction, what is it going to be next ? Plus I would add that even though Scott Morton was nominated by Vestager who is known to be severe with GAFAMs, it cannot be excluded that Vestager could have had pressure from the inside or outside of the European institutions to name Fiona Scott Morton. But that last point stay speculative so it cannot be the main plea Jul 19, 2023 at 16:05
  • "could be seen as a foreign interference trying to kill this project in the egg (rightfully in my humble opinion)" - do you mean it would be right to kill the project or that the assumption that it is foregin interference is right? Jul 20, 2023 at 11:43
  • @LioElbammalf I meant to say that, I my opinion, the assumption of foreign interference was right. Jul 20, 2023 at 12:27
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    Also to try to put things in perspective, how do you think the US would react if an ex Airbus lobbyist was put in charge of regulating north American aviation sector ? Jul 20, 2023 at 12:31

Margrethe Vestager likely chose Scott Morton for her extensive antitrust expertise rather than any perceived softness on big tech. Vestager has shown she is tough on antitrust issues. However, Scott Morton's past consulting work could create potential conflicts of interest that merit consideration. Relevant experience can be valuable but relationships should be evaluated.

The opposition from France may be less about Scott Morton specifically and more about losing influence over EU competition policy to an American. France has pushed for tougher stances on US tech companies while Scott Morton may bring a more US-aligned approach. There are valid concerns about protecting EU interests.

At the same time, economic nationalism likely plays a role. Each EU member wants greater control over policy, whereas Vestager must balance different perspectives. Overall, your doubts seem reasonable. Scott Morton's experience warrants examination, and France's objections likely involve a mix of substantive concerns over conflicts of interest and desire for greater policy influence.

Further context would be needed to fully assess the various motivations at play. Some skepticism is healthy, but evidence is required to draw firm conclusions

  • "Each EU member wants greater control over policy". Isn't that why Britain Exited???
    – RonJohn
    Jul 19, 2023 at 22:28
  • @RonJohn Indeed, but it's not that this problem doesn't exist in other countries. There's eurosceptics everywhere else; simply, they made the math and concluded that notwithstanding all its defaults it is better to be in the EU than not - that conclusion may vary in the future.
    – Rekesoft
    Jul 21, 2023 at 9:50

As the Q was about France's opposition, Macron has made it pretty clear he did not appreciate an American having this job:

President Emmanuel Macron waded into the issue saying he was "dubious".

"Are there no great European researchers who have the academic skills for this job? If that's our conclusion then it's extremely worrying," he told reporters on Tuesday.

If someone of that calibre was not available he said Europe's academic systems had a very big problem, pointing out that US and Chinese rules would have barred a European from getting the same kind of job.

For what's worth it, the same piece points out that pretty much the entire EP (the EPP, the liberals, and the socialists) voiced the same concerns.

Although I'm not sure Macron said any of the following, the same BBC piece also points out that

Ms Scott Morton, a Yale University economics professor, is undoubtedly highly qualified, having worked for the US justice department's antitrust department during the Obama presidency.

But she has also worked as a consultant for big tech firms such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon - exactly the kind of big tech digital giants her job would have required to challenge in her role as chief competition economist in Brussels.

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    Note that in general the EU also has rules requiring EU citizenship for roles like this. Even previous iterations for this specific job required EU citizenship. Only in the most recent round this requirement somehow disappeared from the list of requirements.
    – quarague
    Jul 22, 2023 at 6:20

Fiona Scott Morton work so far makes her essentially a lobbyist for the interests of US big tech companies. She has consulted for several of them and for the US government on the topic of tech companies and antitrust issues. That means she is highly qualified for the eu position but in her career so far has fought for the exact opposite of what she should do for the EU.

For additional background (source a EU member of parliament but in German), almost all positions for the EU require citizenship in some EU country. Of the around 30.000 EU employees only 59 are not EU citizen (excluding UK citizens), all of them in irrelevant minor positions. The job description for the EU chief economist was changed specifically to allow Ms Morton to apply. The official conformation of Ms Morton was hidden in some grueling long session in a pile of completely irrelevant minor decisions. Someone tried to get her into that position and tried hard to keep that under the radar.

Once it become more well-known what had happened, essentially everyone (source, conservatives, social democrats, liberals and green party) voiced strong opposition to the nomination. And so she resigned before starting source.

  • She has worked for both the US antitrust and as consulet of these big companies. Why would Vestager nominate someone that would go against her record of being tough on GAFAM? "Someone tried to get her into that position and tried hard to keep that under the radar." Any source for that?
    – pinpon
    Jul 21, 2023 at 12:51
  • @pinpon The way her nomination was arranged according to my first source (unfortunately in German).
    – quarague
    Jul 21, 2023 at 18:40
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    Of course, economists generally believe that antitrust regulations usually hurt consumers rather than helping them. So her being a mole for US corporations would've somewhat ironically been beneficial for European consumers in the end. Jul 22, 2023 at 3:20
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    @JonathanReez No. Economists in general most certainly do not believe that trusts and monopolies are good for consumers. That is just false. There may be some that believe governments are bad at regulating these things but that is not the same thing. Addtionally this is about US companies. So the US government may reasonably believe that having a global US monopoly is good for the US. Having a US monopoly is definitely not a win for the EU.
    – quarague
    Jul 22, 2023 at 5:36
  • @quarague monopolies are bad for consumers but government efforts to break them apart usually do more harm than good. I.e. see the circus act around the EU suing MS back in the 1990s, with no one asking whether or not consumers actually gained anything as a result. Jul 22, 2023 at 14:06

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