The top US economist under fire for taking an EU job

He has been described as “one of the world̵7;s best economists” with “outstanding credentials” for his field as a record of academic and public service. Yet the appointment of Fiona Scott Morton as chief competition economist of the European Commission has sparked a wave of protest, largely from French politicians.

The commission’s decision to remove Scott Morton from his life as a professor at Yale University has drawn him into a line About her passport and past: She is a US citizen and the first non-EU person to hold such a senior Commission position. He also consults regularly for Big Tech companies – most recently for Microsoft activism deal — because she serves on investigations and advice on regulation against several US tech giants.

Scott Morton is no ordinary economist; He is also a former US antitrust regulator and an influential academic Excited US interest in tackling the market power of large companies, especially Big Tech, resurfaced after two decades when Washington had mostly moved away from aggressive antitrust enforcement.

“The European Commission and, more broadly, we Europeans, are very fortunate to have attracted someone his ability,” French economist and Nobel laureate Jean Tirole told Politico last week. Scott Morton, he said, is “one of the world’s best economists in the field of industrial organization”, a major contributor to American thinking on technology regulation, and a person “strongly driven” by public service.

As yet french minister And european law maker Has called on the Commission to withdraw the job offer and asked whether there are no European economists suitable for the job.

Apparently there weren’t. A commission official, on condition of anonymity to speak freely, said the commission got only 11 candidates and some “did not have the required minimum qualification”. “Scott Morton was clearly the most qualified, that became absolutely clear during the selection process,” the official said.

The Commission’s Chief Competition Economist plays a key role in evaluating the economic aspects of investigations by the Commission’s antitrust, mergers and state aid departments. During his three-year term, Scott Morton may also be called upon to decide on how to implement it. digital market act (DMA) that would impose a straitjacket on Big Tech firms holding gatekeeper positions for digital services such as search or apps. She will avoid working on certain cases where she previously had a client.

“One of the biggest tasks for DGComp is the implementation of the DMA,” said an industry executive, who was granted anonymity to speak freely. “Is it really wise to appoint someone who can recuse himself from all the big matters that come up?”

This isn’t Scott Morton’s first rodeo. He was criticized in 2020 previously not disclosing her work Two papers he co-authored for Apple and Amazon lay out what antitrust cases could be brought against Google and Facebook. He told Bloomberg That year neither Apple nor Amazon paid her to write those papers and she “worked for companies that I am comfortable are not breaking the law.”

Scott Morton declined to comment on the EU controversy or be interviewed before or after the appointment.

‘all disputed’

The commission official said, “The problem is not conflict of interest on the way, it is conflict of interest on the way out.” “For Scott Morton, we also decided to go one step further by demanding a stricter regime.”

The official said, “All economists are confused; it’s like hiring a 3-star chef but asking that he never cook for a competitor.”

The current chief economist Pierre Regibeau, whom Scott Morton is to replace on September 1, told POLITICO last month that he would not work again on any consulting case involving the commission. He was responding Complaints from a transparency campaign group over the commission’s potential “revolving door” when officers quit and go to work for the companies they used to police.

Being American can be hard to ignore, especially when EU officials are talking about “economic security” and “strategic autonomy”, policies that reflect a tough stance on non-EU commercial access to the bloc.

Professor Tommaso Valetti of Imperial College London, who served as the commission’s chief competition economist from 2016 to 2019, expects Scott Morton to handle “quite sensitive files on the state aid side, for example, semiconductors”. Is.

“The chief economist is American. It could become a political issue,” he said, praising his “excellent credentials.” Avoiding some Big Tech scrutiny, Valetti said, means the commission “loses its mind and loses its firepower.”

There’s no doubting Scott Morton’s credibility. After studying economics at Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he began an academic career at Harvard and Stanford universities. He began working as a consultant for Charles River Associates in 2006 before leaving in 2011 to become the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the US Justice Department Antitrust Division for Economic Analysis. After this he resumed his consultancy work.

During his tenure as regulator, the agency blocked deals – including the AT&T and T-Mobile telecom alliances, forcing at&t have to pay a $3 billion break fee – and make a start Test In Apple’s e-books regarding pricing.

Yet he has made further progress as an academic where he and a colleague describe How technology patents can be used to control the market, and documents how digital platforms such as travel reservation websites put pressure on hotel prices and how corporate shareholding in rival companies can be problematic. he has also worked on a Project to recognize that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and how Google Antitrust rules may be violated.

“She’s very smart, she’s very sharp and she’s not afraid to take on veterans,” said Bill Baer, ​​former assistant attorney general for the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. His work, he said, expanded the role of competition policy and improved enforcement, leading to the escalation of current US antitrust action.

Alberto Alemano, professor of law at HEC Paris, believes Scott Morton’s US experience is beneficial. “He is an exceptional candidate for the job, but also capable of reinterpreting that role by promoting American thinking in European competition policy,” he added.

That is, if it survives the current storm. The commission said that there is no basis for his removal.

The commission official said there has been no talk of her resigning and “she has not expressed any intention to do so.”

“I do not understand why he should do this. Because there is unrest in only one member state?” the officer said.