US economist withdraws from key role in EU tech regulation after Macron’s criticism

A US economist assigned a key role within the EU leadership that oversees the regulation of US technology companies resigned hours after French President Emmanuel Macron criticized his appointment as “dubious” and “extremely worrying”.

Fiona Scott Morton wrote to EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager on Wednesday to say she would not take the job because of “political controversy”.

“Given the political controversy that has arisen over the election of a non-European to this position and the importance of the general management having the full backing of the European Union… I have determined that the best thing to do is to withdraw and not assume the position of chief economist,” he said in his letter, which was made public on Wednesday.

Vestager said he regretted the Yale University professor’s decision. “It is with regret that I accept this and hope she continues to use her extraordinary skill set to drive strong competition enforcement,” she tweeted.

Professor Fiona Scott Morton has informed me of her decision not to take up the post of Chief Competition Economist. I accept this with a heavy heart and hope she continues to use her extraordinary skill set to drive a strong competitive app

—Margrethe Vestager (@vestager) July 19, 2023

In 2020, Scott Morton laid out a roadmap for potential action to thwart Google’s dominance of the ad market, which Vestager recently addressed in a landmark ruling that found Google had abused its monopoly on online advertising.

She is considered one of the world’s leading economists on industry and competition, but her appointment last week immediately made headlines in Brussels because of her previous role as a consultant to big US tech companies including Apple and Amazon.

After a summit of Latin American and EU leaders in Brussels on Tuesday, Macron described the appointment as “dubious” and said the appointment of a foreign national to a similar role in the US administration would be blocked due to sensitivities. sovereign. He also questioned how he could do his job “efficiently” if he had to refrain from making decisions about companies he had previously advised.

Emmanuel Macron on the appointment of Fiona Scott Morton:

“As you know, I am committed to the strategic autonomy of Europe. I look at the facts and, at the same time, I am in favor of recruiting the most competent people (…)”.

— Elisabeth Malafa (@Elise_ML) July 18, 2023

In a jab at Vestager, he suggested that it was hard to believe that someone of the same caliber could not have been found in Europe.

Leaders of the main political groups in the European Parliament had also rebuked Vestager for choosing Scott Morton, chief economist at the US Justice Department’s antitrust division under President Barack Obama.

His appointment also drew strong criticism from French politicians, including Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who urged the EU to reconsider his appointment.

French Europe Minister Laurence Boone, an early critic of the appointment, told the Financial Times: “It’s not personal.” He said the concern centered on conflicts of interest in key roles that influence big business and that there needed to be more transparency around any potential conflicts that might arise in such appointments.

“It is necessary to clarify the rules on conflicts of interest during and after these strategic positions,” he added.

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