The American economist who turned down a top Brussels job after a backlash led by Emmanuel Macron has hit out at France’s “insecure” and xenophobic comments about her appointment.
Fiona Scott-Morton said it was “totally wrong” for Mr Macron to assume that “the country on the front of my passport” would influence her approach to regulating US tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon.
“It’s troubling and sad that French society is insecure to the point of rejecting the idea that there could be a principled American who wants to work for Europe,” she said in her first interview since turning down the chief economist role at the EU’s powerful competition division.
Ms Scott-Morton also warned that political meddling in technical appointments was “destructive for the independence of the European Commission”.
The Yale University professor said it would hamper the bloc’s ability to promote competition and put consumers first.
Ms Scott-Morton, who would have started the job as chief economist in the EU’s competition directorate on September 1, added: “What is really unfortunate is Macron’s view that the country on the front of my passport would determine my judgment or affect the way I would carry out economic analysis.
“That was the sum total of his objection to me at the end of the day. And of course, it’s totally wrong in my case. He probably knows it’s in general a poor way to choose talent for an agency. France, and Europe, should be secure enough to believe that they have a job that is attractive to an American.”
The former US Department of Justice official said she was “surprised” and “disappointed” at the reaction from politicians in France and the European Parliament.
Mr Macron had described competition chief Margrethe Vestager’s decision to hire Ms Scott-Morton as “dubious”, questioning her work as a consultant for US tech giants Amazon, Apple and most recently Microsoft in its takeover of Activision Blizzard.
“Isn’t there a European researcher who can do this job?” he told reporters last month.
Responding to the criticism, Ms Scott-Morton said most of her work with tech giants had been completed several years ago and was “not relevant” to current antitrust issues.
Ms Scott-Morton said she would have recused herself from cases that presented a clear conflict of interest, including the Microsoft deal.
She said policymakers would always face a “trade-off” when deciding who to appoint to the competition economist role, with consulting common in her industry.
“Governments have a choice,” she said. “They can hire somebody who has not done any consulting before. So that’s a person who lacks a certain type of practical knowledge about how the job is supposed to work. If you want someone with that practical knowledge then they must have done some consulting [and have] a conflict. So there’s a trade-off between whether you want the experience that comes with some conflicts, or no experience, and no conflict.”
Ms Scott-Morton suggested that political wrangling in Brussels would weaken the European Commission’s efforts to enforce its flagship Digital Markets Act.
The act, which comes into full effect next spring, requires big tech companies to do more to police the internet. It also gives Brussels the power to impose hefty fines for anti-competitive behaviour.
France has led a renewed protectionist charge in the 27-nation bloc in recent years, pitting its more liberal Danish competition chief Ms Vestager against French commissioner for internal markets Thierry Breton. Ms Vestager is due to leave her post in 2024, while Mr Breton is reportedly eyeing the top job held by Ursula von der Leyen.
While Ms Scott-Morton declined to comment on individuals at the Commission, she said: “What we learned from this conflict is that there are people in the European government who are willing to put their own desire for power ahead of the welfare of the people.
“I think it’s a warning sign to Europe about how they’re going to handle those things, how they’re going to handle enforcement, how they’re going to handle conflict between different member states that want different things and are the French really going to be allowed to determine the direction of the Union all by themselves?”
Ms Scott-Morton, who was deemed the best of 11 candidates who applied for the chief competition economist role, also suggested that Mr Macron’s objection to her appointment had played into the hands of the tech giants.
She said: “To the extent that he really wanted to limit the power of these American dominant platforms, the way to do that is to have a well-functioning European Commission that’s allowed to hire who they want and get on with the job.”
This article is originally published on telegraph.co.uk