Rising pushback against Europe's chief competition economist appointment

big tech
July 14, 2023 Fiona Scott Morton's appointment is turning into a scandal

Update July 19: Prof. Scott Morton has turned down the post.

Previous article:

We got plenty of attention with our recent letter criticising the European Commission’s choice of Fiona Scott Morton as its next Chief Competition Economist.

The appointment has been confirmed, and our criticisms remain valid: that she has conflicts of interest; the appointment process was peculiar, and she represents an outdated “Consumer Welfare” paradigm that fosters monopolisation.

Now, it seems, a wider furore has been building, especially in France.

France’s Digital Minister, Jean-Noël Barrot politely invited the EU Commission to “re-examine its choice.”

And, as Politico reports,

“France’s Europe Minister Catherine Colonna said she was “astonished” by the choice of Fiona Scott Morton as chief competition economist, “which deserves to be reconsidered by the Commission.”

Laurence Boone, French Secretary for Europe said she, Colonna and Barrot “are immediately engaging in a dialogue with the Commission so that the appointments are consistent with our European ambitions.”

Stéphanie Yon-Courtin has outlined a series of media articles. For instance, a Le Monde headline describes anger in Brussels over the appointment of “une lobbyiste américaine” to the post. Valeurs calls it a “scandal“,  L’Express asks “who is this American?” and Nouvel Observateur describes “indignation among French politicians of all stripes.

And we also have this:

The letter described in that tweet is here, and there’s even a petition that you can go ahead and sign if you like. It concludes:

On the basis of these considerations and on behalf of the European Parliament, our political groups oppose the appointment of Ms Fiona Scott Morton and ask the Commission to reconsider the decision taken by the College on 11 July.”

There’s more in the Financial Times, while on Reuters:

“To avoid conflicts of interest, Scott Morton will not work on cases in which she has previously been involved, or on cases involving companies for which she had worked for previously as a consultant.”

So she won’t be able to work on Amazon, Microsoft, and a host of other companies that will be central to the Commission’s work in this area. What a great pick! As we said in our letter, was there not another, more suitable candidate among Europe’s 450 million citizens?

The Commission is holding the line, for now, but this scandal – which will taint the reputation of outgoing Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager – won’t be going away soon.

It’s not too late to reconsider, and to appoint someone – a European, naturally – who hasn’t got such links to big tech firms, and whose beliefs about how to regulate power are more appropriate to the modern age.