French ministers lashed out Thursday at the European Commission for picking a U.S. professor for a top antitrust job overseeing U.S. Big Tech firms.
France’s Europe Minister Catherine Colonna said she was “astonished” by the choice of Fiona Scott Morton as chief competition economist, “which deserves to be reconsidered by the Commission.”
Digital Minister Jean-Noël Barrot said the Commission should rethink the hire, which raises “legitimate questions” at a time when the EU is rolling out ambitious digital enforcement legislation.
Some Commission officials earlier questioned the appointment and how it was made earlier this week without wide consultation and without any in-depth discussion of Scott Morton’s previous consulting work for Big Tech firms. Pressure is now growing on EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager over the appointment.
French Secretary for Europe Laurence Boone swiftly joined her government colleagues, saying she’d talked to Vestager about her nomination of Scott Morton when “Europe has many talented economists.”
Boone said she, Colonna and Barrot “are immediately engaging in a dialogue with the Commission so that the appointments are consistent with our European ambitions.”
Scott Morton will be the first non-European to take on the sensitive role, which advises the commissioner on a wide variety of competition cases, including antitrust probes, big deals, government subsidies and the Digital Markets Act that will curb powerful tech giants. She’s due to start on September 1.
Commission spokesperson Arianna Podestà said Wednesday that the Commission had opened the vacancy to non-EU candidates to net “the widest possible pool of candidates” and only received “a limited number of applications.”
Scott Morton was “the best choice in terms of her qualifications and of her performance in the recruitment process,” Podestà said.
Podestà said the Commission had “thoroughly examined whether she has any personal interest such as to impair her independence or any other conflict of interest.” Measures taken to tackle an actual or potential conflict of interest will see her avoid involvement “in any cases which she worked on or had knowledge of during her previous employment.”