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London Economist’s Ouster from EU’s Antitrust Enforcer Role Raises Concerns over Competition and National Interests

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American Economist Fiona Scott Morton Faces Opposition in European Commission Appointment

Fiona Scott Morton, an American economist, was set to become the chief economist at the European Commission’s antitrust enforcer. However, her appointment was abruptly revoked shortly after being announced due to backlash against her nationality and lobbying from French companies and politicians. Scott Morton had consulted for several Big Tech companies, including Apple and Microsoft, which drew criticism from her opponents. The French politicians opposing her appointment frequently referred to her as a “lobbyiste am√©ricaine.”

Scott Morton, a professor at Yale University and an advocate for the European Union’s new competition rulebook, expressed concerns about the EU’s antitrust revamp. She fears that the legislation may be exploited to promote national interests, resulting in less competition, higher prices, and a weakened European position on the global stage. She questioned whether a competition framework should still be in place or if the EU should adopt an industrial policy that endorses a national champion to compete against firms from other jurisdictions.

The debate over Europe’s industrial future is a crucial issue as the bloc aims to revive its economy following the COVID-19 pandemic. Divisions among policymakers and politicians persist regarding whether the EU’s digital rules and public funds should favor local companies or allow all firms meeting the EU’s standards to compete. Scott Morton emphasized the importance of combating entrenched market power and establishing a level playing field that enables new ideas from various sources to compete.

The clash between Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s competition chief, who supported Scott Morton’s appointment, and Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, who opposed it, has intensified the controversy. Breton has advocated for competition rules that favor local companies, while Vestager’s market liberal philosophy appears to be diminishing in influence. The shift toward promoting national or European champions aligns with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s push for European “strategic autonomy.”

Scott Morton rejected criticisms of her consulting work for Big Tech companies, arguing that it provides valuable insight into how these firms operate. She defended the safeguards put in place by regulatory agencies, including the European Commission, to prevent conflicts of interest. She emphasized the necessity of appointing individuals with sector experience to effectively address challenges in the field.

Contrary to the criticism aimed at her, Scott Morton believes that the European Commission should be more aggressive in enforcing antitrust measures against tech giants. American regulators, such as the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission, have initiated antitrust lawsuits against companies like Google and Amazon, potentially leading to their breakup. Scott Morton supports splitting up parts of these businesses to promote competition, a step the Commission has been hesitant to take.

Under Europe’s new competition rulebook, Scott Morton advocates for stringent regulation, requiring tech companies to provide greater access to rivals or new entrants. The legislation obliges companies like Meta Platforms and ByteDance (owner of TikTok) to enable users to transfer personal information and allow competitors to tap into existing dominant digital services. The effectiveness of implementation will determine the success of these measures.

While Scott Morton acknowledges that implementation will not be flawless, she believes that it can be as effective as possible given the circumstances.

The opposition faced by Fiona Scott Morton reveals the growing political nature of antitrust enforcement in the EU. It highlights the ongoing debate surrounding the EU’s digital rules and the balance between promoting local companies and fostering competition on a global scale. As Europe seeks to reshape its industrial landscape, the decisions made in this arena will significantly impact its economic future.

More detail via POLITICO here… ( Image via POLITICO )

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