Friday was supposed to be Fiona Scott Morton’s first day in Brussels. Her appointment as the European Commission’s chief competition expert was announced last month with little fanfare on Page Six of the daily news bulletin.
A 227-word clause said she would begin work on Sept. 1, and detailed the Yale professor’s professional accomplishments, including her tenure in the Obama administration.
However, what was supposed to be a routine appointment quickly turned into a diplomatic fuss.
French Europe Minister Catherine Colonna said she was “surprised” by the hiring decision. While President Emmanuel Macron described it as “questionable.”
their problem? Not Scott Morton’s politics or politics, but her passport: she is American.
“Isn’t there a European scholar who can do this job?” Macron demanded.
Those who opposed Scott Morton’s appointment have argued that citizenship is more important than credentials when it comes to working for the Brussels Machine.
Weeks later, the 56-year-old academic is still trying to comprehend what happened.
“These are supposed to be steady, pre-planned, known jobs that you do for a few years. I didn’t expect to get hired and fired on a dime. That’s not the way my world works.”
Scott Morton says she had no choice but to turn down the job. Which included the support of EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager with economic analysis.
“The chief competition economist must be legitimate and have the backing of the community that makes up the European Union,” Scott Morton told The Telegraph in her first interview since turning down the post.
He added, “If the French and French presidents are so worried about an American taking this position, I think it will be difficult to do the job well because it may turn into political and bureaucratic squabbles rather than substance.
“I didn’t want to be in a position where a large part of the power base in Europe wanted me to leave. This is not a fun job.”
This experience, one of the most turbulent in her career, left a bitter taste in the mouth.
“It is disturbing and sad that French society is so insecure that it rejects the idea of a principled American willing to work for Europe,” she says. “Why should a great job in a beautiful city lead to a great search for an ulterior motive?”
Speaking while on holiday from Edinburgh, Scott Morton says: “I’m disappointed I was looking forward to it.
“I made some effort to rearrange my life, my family’s life, my housing, my teaching, my university, my students and my research projects. All were reorganized so that I could meet the need to work in government.
“We plan our classes a year in advance,” says Scott Morton, who has been on the Yale faculty since 1999. “I have to tell my university if I’m going to Brussels so they can find someone else to teach my classes.” Lessons in September.
Scott Morton was well qualified for this position, having served in a position in the US Department of Justice in the Obama administration where she was Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Economic Analysis.
During its existence, the agency blocked deals including the AT&T partnership, T-Mobile Communications, and… Launched an investigation into Apple e-books for pricing.
More than three dozen economists, including Nobel laureate Jean Tyrol and former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard, jumped to Scott Morton’s defense when the French objected to her appointment.
“Scott Morton is one of the world’s foremost economists on industrial regulation, a key contributor to policy thinking on technology regulation, and a strong drive for public service,” they wrote in an open letter.
This incident has now left a wide analytical gap in the European Union During the crucial six months of competition law. The bloc’s flagship digital markets law will come into full force next spring and give Brussels more power to police big tech companies.
Seven companies have been designated as “gatekeepers” under the new rules, including parent companies of Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. All of these sites have a market capitalization of over €75 billion (£64 billion) and no less than 45 million monthly users.
Critics have highlighted that Scott Morton has done consulting work for three of those seven giants. She points out that most of this work is in the past and consulting is common in the sector.
The EU’s incumbent chief competition economist and current acting chair both worked with the same global consulting firm as Scott Morton.
The French have power when it comes to hostility toward the United States.
When rumors spread that PepsiCo wanted to buy dairy giant Danone in 2005, then-French Finance Minister Thierry Breton declared that “France is not the Wild West” while politicians rushed to the company’s defense.
The American soft drink maker has been described as an “American ogre” by the country’s press, although no official bid has been made. The French have been ridiculed for their “strategic milk” policy. which soon became synonymous with French protectionism.
The EU’s head of internal markets is held by Macron ally Thierry Breton, who is said to have ambitions for the highest office in Brussels.
He is part of a faction wary of Danish competition boss Vestager’s desire to block a merger between the rail divisions of Siemens and Alstom, two big European firms. Supporters of the deal want to build national champions and favor more state aid and subsidies.
Scott Morton steers clear of commenting on politics or individual players in Brussels, saying only that “advancement of the competition agenda could have been made had I been in this position.”
One of the deals agreed to by Brussels is Proposed acquisition of Call of Duty-maker Activision Blizzard by Microsoft. The Commission accepted the latter’s concessions on cloud gaming, even when British authorities blocked the deal for the same reasons.
The decision put the UK in a difficult position As the only major country still standing in the way of the deal after US courts overruled attempts by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block it.
Microsoft is now trying again with a new proposal that will increase pressure on the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to give it the green light.
When asked about the merger, Scott Morton is quick to point out that she recently consulted Microsoft about the deal.
But she adds: “The CMA is very exposed. The deal has been done in many jurisdictions around the world. So the CMA is now in a position to try to block the global merger, all on its own and it’s not comfortable.
“My experience is that in situations like this everyone cares a lot about saving face. No one wants to admit they were wrong, so there has to be a way out of this situation that preserves everyone’s legal process and their self-respect.
Going forward, Scott Morton fears that tech companies are moving too quickly for traditional authorities to keep up.
“I think we need a specialized regulator,” she says. “We have these things for agriculture and communications and most of the things we invent.”
It’s a good idea – but it probably won’t see the light of day in Brussels now that Scott Morton is forced out.