Macron “doubtful” about the choice of an American to regulate “big tech”

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “skeptical” on Tuesday about the appointment of American Fiona Scott Morton to a key EU post for the regulation of tech giants and said he was waiting for answers from the European Commission.

His declaration made in Brussels, on the sidelines of a summit of the Twenty-Seven with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, intervened just before a hearing of the vice-president of the European executive, Margrethe Vestager, who defended this recruitment before the European Parliament.

“I tried to hire the best possible person for this job,” she insisted, while explaining that it was not a decision-making position but only an adviser.

The appointment of Ms Scott Morton as the new chief economist at the Directorate-General for Competition sparked outrage among MEPs.

The European Commission has sent them an end of inadmissibility as well as to the French government which has requested the cancellation of the recruitment of this professor of economics at the prestigious Yale University.

– Letter to von der Leyen –

But the Brussels executive seems divided. Five commissioners, the Spaniard Josep Borrell, the French Thierry Breton, the Portuguese Elisa Ferreira, the Italian Paolo Gentiloni and the Luxembourgish Nicolas Schmit have written to President Ursula von der Leyen to demand a reassessment of this appointment, a senior European official told AFP on Tuesday evening who regrets a lack of debate and transparency.

“At the time of choice, it was not made clear that the candidate was American and that there were potential conflicts of interest,” he said on condition of anonymity.

“If we have no (European) researcher of this level to be recruited by the Commission, that means that we have a very big problem with all the European academic systems”, Emmanuel Macron explained on Tuesday.

He underlined the absence of “reciprocity” on the part of the United States and China to appoint Europeans who would be “at the heart of (their) decisions”.

Elected officials have pinned the former functions of Ms. Scott Morton as head of economic analysis at the antitrust division of the United States Department of Justice, between 2011 and 2012, or as a consultant for large tech groups like Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.

They denounce possible conflicts of interest and the risk of interference by Washington in EU decisions.

The French president said he had “a lot of respect” for the American expert. But “she has been hired by a lot of companies and should step back from these situations, which makes what we hire her for quite ineffective,” he said.

Arguing for “strategic autonomy” for Europe, he considers that the appointment of Ms. Scott Morton “is not necessarily the most coherent decision in this respect”.

– “American sheriff” –

“The idea that she worked for all the Gafams and that because of that she cannot work in the technology sector is simply not true,” replied Ms. Vestager to MEPs, referring to collaborations as a “consultant” but “never as a lobbyist”.

She acknowledged that there would be some files on which Ms. Scott Morton could not be involved to avoid conflicts of interest. But “these are very few cases, a handful at most”, she said, refusing to reveal the list for reasons of “confidentiality”, despite the insistent requests of several MEPs.

The opening of the position to non-European candidates appeared on the vacancy notice published in March, she further explained, justifying this choice by the scarcity of available skills.

Despite this, the Commission only received 11 applications, four of which met the selection criteria, said the Competition Commissioner.

The powerful Directorate-General for Competition is responsible for ensuring the proper functioning of competition in the European Union (EU) and in particular for investigating abuses of dominant position by digital giants, which have resulted in record fines in recent years.

The appointment of Mrs. Scott Morton comes at a time when the EU must implement ambitious new legislation to regulate this sector.

“We ended the digital Wild West to appoint an American sheriff? (…) This appointment goes against our sovereignty,” said MEP Stéphanie Yon-Courtin (Renew, centrists and liberals).

“Madame Vestager did not convince the European Parliament. She pretended not to understand the problems,” reacted EPP MEP (right) Geoffroy Didier. “Stubbornness in this appointment would be a serious political fault for the Commission”.

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