In a surprising move, French President Emmanuel Macron rejected the appointment of Fiona Scott Morton, a distinguished American Yale academic, as the top economist at the EU’s influential competition directorate in Brussels. This decision sheds light on the current state of paranoia within the European Union regarding America’s power and influence.
While the issue may seem trivial in comparison to broader debates over Brexit and conflicts in the Middle East, the French veto holds deeper implications for the EU’s stance on resisting becoming “America’s followers.” President Macron’s vision of a strong and independent Europe has found resonance in Brussels, leading to a growing skepticism towards the influence of the United States.
The selection of Professor Scott Morton, backed by powerful figures like Margrethe Vestager, the Danish EU competition commissioner, and Ursula von der Leyen, the German president of the European Commission, was met with a surprising disapproval. Despite her outstanding academic credentials, which included working for the Obama administration and major tech companies, some EU officials found fault with her background, reflecting a lack of understanding of the concept of a “poacher turned gamekeeper.”
The opposition to Scott Morton’s appointment has garnered support from various quarters, including the Commission, European Parliament, and trade unions. France’s rejection of her appointment also indirectly challenges the authority of Vestager, whose position as competition commissioner has faced challenges during her second term. She has encountered setbacks in court rulings against tech giants and has found herself at odds with Thierry Breton, a prominent French industrialist overseeing the EU’s internal market.
The disagreements between Vestager and Breton extend to critical issues like the policing of the EU’s Digital Markets Act and policies on artificial intelligence (AI). While Breton favors a restrictive approach to AI development, Vestager advocates for a voluntary code of conduct and collaboration with the U.S. on generative AI, like ChatGPT.
To overcome challenges and ensure Europe’s competitive edge, the argument arises for member states to adopt a tougher stance on competition policy. Some suggest prioritizing the creation of national or pan-European champions over aggressive crackdowns on subsidies and anti-competitive practices, reflecting a shift in liberal policies designed to safeguard the single market’s level playing field.
The French veto highlights how power dynamics within the EU have evolved since Brexit, emphasizing that “liberal Europe” faces a losing streak in its efforts to assert independence and counter the influence of the United States.
In summary, the rejection of Fiona Scott Morton’s appointment as the top economist at the EU’s competition directorate by France reveals the EU’s growing concern over American influence and its determination to stand independently from the U.S. The decision has sparked debates over competition policies and the future trajectory of the European Union on the global stage.