Tensions are mounting as France finds itself at odds with the U.S. and the European Union in the most recent saga involving the nomination of a former U.S. Department of Justice economist for a key EU role.
Fiona Scott Morton, a former Obama administration official and a professor at Yale University, has been chosen to be the new chief economist at the Directorate-General for Competition, raising eyebrows in Paris.
As the digital landscape continues to evolve rapidly, France views this nomination with skepticism, considering the crucial significance of digital regulation for both France and Europe at large.
Catherine Colonna, France’s foreign minister, has requested the European Commission to reconsider its nomination due to her concern about the appointment. Similarly, junior minister for digital affairs, Jean-Noël Barrot, has also called the move into question.
The chief economist plays a crucial role in advising the competition commissioner on a wide array of economic policies. This includes state aid, mergers, and acquisitions.
Given the role’s significant influence, the nomination of Scott Morton, who would be the first non-European in this role, and her previous connections to tech behemoths like Apple and Amazon, has incited concern in France.
Digital regulation and strategic autonomy
This discontent emerges as Brussels gears up to amplify its regulatory oversight over tech giants, with several new laws and enforcement actions in the pipeline.
The situation is further complicated by the ongoing pressure from countries like France for the commission to relax state aid rules, enabling the bloc to compete more effectively with the U.S.
France has championed the concept of “strategic autonomy” under Emmanuel Macron’s presidency, encouraging Europe to lessen its reliance on external powers, such as the U.S. and China, for defense or economic needs.
This philosophy partly elucidates France’s apprehension towards an American filling a crucial EU role and its skepticism about Scott Morton’s past consulting work for tech companies.
Concerns over potential conflict of interest
France’s trepidations are echoed by the leaders of the European Parliament’s four major political groups, who sent a letter to Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, urging her to reverse the decision.
They highlighted the possible conflict of interest and opined that a non-European should not be in such a high-ranking and strategic position.
The European Commission has defended its choice, praising Scott Morton for her impressive academic background and vast experience in economic analysis and competition policy.
To assuage concerns, the commission has emphasized that she would abstain from working on cases on which she had previously worked in the initial years of her tenure.
The commission maintains that she is the most qualified candidate for the position and that there are no grounds for reconsideration.
Despite the objections, the commission appears resolute in its decision, but it hasn’t eased the tension that this move has generated. It seems as though France’s dissatisfaction goes beyond the appointment of a specific individual.
Instead, it hints at the broader dynamics of global technology regulation, strategic autonomy, and the intricate balance of power within the European Union.
The outcome of this matter could have significant implications for the future of EU-U.S. relations and the bloc’s approach to digital governance. As the stakes continue to rise, the world will be watching how these events unfold.