Von der Leyen sparks French fury over appointment of US official for top EU job

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French ministers have launched a scathing attack on the European Commission’s decision to appoint a US professor to oversee the regulation of major American tech companies.

The move has sparked intense criticism from top officials who argue that the selection process was flawed and that the appointment raises 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.

Colonna’s remarks have been echoed by Digital Minister Jean-Noël Barrot, who demanded a rethink of the hiring process, citing the emergence of “legitimate questions” surrounding the appointment.

The controversy surrounding Scott Morton’s appointment has been further fuelled by allegations of insufficient consultation and a lack of in-depth discussion regarding her previous consulting work for major tech firms.

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Commission officials themselves have 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 has already engaged in discussions with Vestager, urging the Commission to ensure that appointments align with European ambitions.

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Fiona Scott Morton, the first non-European to be appointed to this crucial role, will be tasked with advising the commissioner on a wide range of competition cases, including antitrust probes, significant deals, government subsidies, and the enforcement of the Digital Markets Act aimed at reining in the power of tech giants.

Despite the uproar, Scott Morton is set to assume her position on September 1.

Commission spokesperson Arianna Podestà defended the selection process, stating that the vacancy was opened to non-EU candidates to attract the widest possible pool of applicants.

Podestà claimed that Scott Morton was the most qualified candidate based on her qualifications and performance during the recruitment process.

The Commission conducted a thorough examination to ensure her independence and address any potential conflicts of interest, implementing measures to prevent her involvement in cases related to her prior employment.

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