19 July 2023

European outcry sees US economist withdraw from top job

19 July 2023

The American candidate to become one of the European Union’s chief economists will not now take up the position because of the political controversy it has created, the bloc has announced.

The day after French president Emmanuel Macron criticised the appointment of Fiona Scott Morton because of her nationality, the Yale economics professor wrote in a letter to the EU’s executive commission that she had “determined that the best course of action is for me to withdraw and not take up the chief economist position”.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who had pushed through the decision to appoint an American to the high-level position, said: “I accept this with regret and hope that (Ms Scott Morton) will continue to use her extraordinary skill-set to push for strong competition enforcement.”

Mr Macron had not been the only one to criticise the unusual move to take on an American for such a post but his criticism had the most impact.

Is there really no great European researcher with academic qualifications that could do this job?

On Tuesday, he insisted that if the European Union needed more strategic independence, it was a bad move that the EU head office planned to hire an American expert as its chief competition economist.

“Is there really no great European researcher with academic qualifications that could do this job?” Mr Macron asked at an EU summit.

In a bloc of some 450 million people “is there no-one in the 27 member states that has a researcher good enough to advise the (European) Commission? That is a real question mark”, Mr Macron said.

The EU’s executive commission announced last week that it had appointed Ms Scott Morton as chief competition economist in its department tasked with ensuring that “all companies compete equally and fairly on their merits within the single market, to the benefit of consumers, businesses and the European economy as a whole”.

Mr Macron insisted that he had nothing against Ms Scott Morton herself, an economist with multiple diplomas from elite schools.

But the French leader demanded answers from the commission and suggested that hiring a non-EU citizen to such a senior job should not be allowed under EU statutes.

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