European Commission ignores Paris criticism over appointment of US expert

World News
2023-07-15 | 04:13
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European Commission ignores Paris criticism over appointment of US expert
European Commission ignores Paris criticism over appointment of US expert

The European Commission disregarded the French government's request on Friday to cancel the appointment of American candidate Fiona Scott Morton to a key position related to regulating technology giants.

However, leaders of the four major political groups in the European Parliament supported Paris's request, pointing to potential conflicts of interest and Washington's interference with the appointment of this former advisor, who held a position in President Barack Obama's administration.

Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant stated during her daily press conference that "the decision has been made, and we see no reason to reconsider it."

The European Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen, announced on Tuesday the selection of Fiona Scott Morton, an economics professor at Yale University, for the position of Chief Economist in the Directorate-General for Competition.

Her appointment sparked anger, particularly in France.

Officials from all political streams highlighted her previous work as the chief economist at the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice between May 2011 and December 2012, or as an advisor to major technology groups such as Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna stated on Thursday evening that "digital regulation is a fundamental issue for France and Europe," emphasizing the "need to reconsider this appointment."

In the European Parliament, leaders of the European People's Party (right-wing), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe (centrists and liberals), and the Greens/European Free Alliance called on the Commission in a letter to "cancel this decision."

The French Employers' Organization (MEDEF) also joined the opposition, condemning the "naivety, indifference, and even disregard for European public opinion" shown by the European administration in Brussels.

A number of Members of the European Parliament sent a message on Friday to European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager. German Manfred Weber, Spaniard Iratxe García Pérez, Frenchman Stéphane Séjourné, and Belgian Philippe Lamberts wrote, "While our institutions face close scrutiny in the face of foreign interference, we fail to understand why non-European candidates should be considered for such a high-level strategic position."

Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant stated that the Commissioner for Competition has received the message and will respond to it.

The Directorate-General for Competition, which holds significant powers, is responsible for ensuring fair competition in the European Union and investigating violations by technology giants, resulting in significant fines in recent years.

Scott Morton's appointment comes at a time when the European Union is expected to enact ambitious new legislation to regulate this sector. It has raised criticisms of Vestager and von der Leyen, who are seen as strong advocates for transatlantic relations.

The European Commission affirms that it has respected its established employment rules.

Dana Spinant stated that the procedures began in February and were initially opened to citizens outside the European Union in order to have a broader range of specialized skills.

Sources within the Commission reported that only 11 nominations were received.

The spokesperson added that appointing a "recognized expert in economic and competition issues of non-European nationality demonstrates that the Commission seeks, above all, to base its decisions on the best possible expertise, which is evidence of efficiency and openness."

However, the Commission downplayed the significance of the responsibilities that Scott Morton will assume. Dana Spinant affirmed, "It is not a position that allows for decision-making; it is an advisory role."

On Thursday, the Commission dismissed any concerns about conflicts of interest, stating that Fiona Scott Morton "will not participate in cases she has worked on or had knowledge of during her previous work."

Nevertheless, these justifications did not necessarily convince the opponents of this appointment, which has caused anger even within the executive authority.

A senior European official told Agence France-Presse that this appointment is "not rational," pointing out that "several Commissioners were angry and informed the President about it."

The official added that "the process was not transparent. It was adopted quickly between points that were not discussed during a meeting of the Commissioners, without even mentioning Scott Morton's American citizenship."


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