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American economist Fiona Scott Morton was forced to refuse a job offer by the EU Commission to be in charge of the EU executive’s antitrust department after French President Emmanuel Macron voiced his dissent.
The EU Commission announced last week that it had appointed the Yale economics professor as chief competition economist in its department tasked with ensuring that “all companies compete equally and fairly on their merits within the single market, to the benefit of consumers, businesses and the European economy as a whole.”
Macron insisted that he has nothing against Scott Morton herself, an economist with multiple diplomas from elite schools.
But the French leader demanded answers from the commission and suggested that hiring a non-EU citizen to such a senior job should not be allowed under EU statutes.
“Is there really no great European researcher with academic qualifications that could do this job?” Macron asked at a summit of EU leaders with their Latin American counterparts.
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In a bloc of some 450 million people, “is there no one in the 27 member states that has a researcher good enough to advise the (European) Commission? That is a real question mark,” Macron said.
In a letter published on Wednesday by European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager on Twitter, Scott Morton said: “Given the controversy that has arisen because of the selection of a non-European to fill this position, and the importance that the Directorate General has the full backing of the European Union as it enforces, I have determined that the best course of action is for me to withdraw and not take up the Chief Economist position.”
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The move had sparked intense criticism from top officials who argued that the selection process was flawed and that the appointment raised serious concerns at a time when the European Union is pushing forward with ambitious digital enforcement legislation.
France’s Europe Minister, Catherine Colonna, expressed her astonishment at the choice of Fiona Scott Morton as chief competition economist and called for the Commission to reconsider its decision last week.
Commission officials themselves had raised doubts about the selection process, intensifying the pressure on EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, who is now facing mounting scrutiny over the decision.
Adding to the growing chorus of criticism, French Secretary for Europe Laurence Boone expressed her disappointment, stressing that Europe boasts a plethora of talented economists who were overlooked in favour of an outsider.
Boone revealed that she had already engaged in discussions with Vestager, urging the Commission to ensure that appointments align with European ambitions.
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