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Commission rebuffs calls to retract US antitrust hire – POLITICO

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The European Commission said there are no grounds to reverse the choice of a U.S. professor for a sensitive competition post after four European Parliament groups called for the job pick to be retracted.

Renew Europe, the European People’s Party, Socialists and Democrats and Greens sent a letter to Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Friday, expressing “dismay” over the appointment of Fiona Scott Morton as chief competition economist this week. It is the first time a non-EU person has held such a senior Commission post.

Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant told reporters on Friday that there is no good reason for the Commission to change course.

“Following the recruitment process, the College endorsed the proposal to appoint this person to this position, the decision was made and we see no ground to reconsider,” she said.

Lawmakers earlier told Vestager to “reverse the decision taken by the College” on July 11.

“Though we recognize the European Commission’s prerogative for its internal recruitments, it cannot contradict the general principles, interests, and objectives of our Union,” according to the document dated July 14 and seen by POLITICO.

“We fail to understand the consideration of non-EU candidates for such a high-ranking and strategic position,” the lawmakers said. “We are very concerned about the opposite views she publicly expressed and the potential conflict of interests between her new role and her previous functions with large American tech companies.”

Politicians have also gone public about their concerns on the job pick.

“No matter how competent, this is not in our strategic interest,” wrote EPP’s Esther de Lange in a Twitter post. French Renew lawmaker Stéphanie Yon-Courtin also asked on Twitter: “Don’t we have excellent economists in the EU?”

The letter was initially drafted by Renew Europe, the political group of the liberals in the European Parliament, said Renew spokesperson Antoine Guèry.

Vestager is also part of the wider liberal family.

French ministers have also criticized the choice after some Commission officials complained that they weren’t consulted in advance about Scott Morton’s appointment and that there was also no internal debate on potential conflicts of interest. There’s even a French online petition opposing the nomination. Scott Morton has previously worked for Big Tech firms including Microsoft and Apple.

Commission spokesperson Arianna Podestà said Wednesday that the Commission had opened the vacancy to non-EU candidates to net “the widest possible pool of candidates” and only received “a limited number of applications.”

Scott Morton was “the best choice in terms of her qualifications and of her performance in the recruitment process,” Podestà said.

Podestà said the Commission had “thoroughly examined whether she has any personal interest such as to impair her independence or any other conflict of interest” and would take measures to tackle an actual or potential conflict of interest.

Scott Morton is scheduled to start work on September 1.

Mathieu Pollet contributed reporting to this story.

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