Updated Jul 19, 2023, 2:55pm EDT

Should an American be allowed to be a top EU economist?

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REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

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The News

An American economist appointed to a top European Union post withdrew from the job after European officials voiced concern about whether a U.S. citizen is the right choice.

Despite having strong qualifications in the field of anti-trust, Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale University professor who was set to be the EU’s Chief Competition Economist, faced scrutiny over her nationality and past experience consulting for tech giants. It kicked off a debate over whether a non-EU citizen should serve as an economist for the bloc.

“Isn’t there a European researcher who can do this job?” French President Emmanuel Macron asked.

We’ve curated insightful analysis about what you need to know about the debate and why Morton’s appointment was so controversial.

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  • Some analysts and politicos argued Morton’s nationality matters, especially for a position focused on economic competition. Former French Ambassador to the U.S. Gérard Araud said: “It entails loyalty to a non EU country with which the EU has major disputes in her field of competence.” Edward Hunter Christie, a former NATO official, said Morton’s appointment could set a troubling precedent for non-citizens serving in critical roles.
  • Financial Times columnist Alan Beattie argued that we shouldn’t assume people who work in other places are secretly loyal to their home country. “England/the UK have had Swedish and Italian coaches of the national football team and Dutch, Americans and Belgians setting monetary policy,” he pointed out.
  • Samuel Stolton, a Bloomberg reporter covering the debate, said the saga must look “dispiriting” from outside Europe. “Message from Brussels: You may be one of the best in the world at your job, but if you’re not an EU citizen, you’re not for us….,” he tweeted.
  • Why were the French particularly outraged? “France is the main driver behind the concept of ‘strategic autonomy,’ or greater independence from trading rivals (including the U.S.),” Politico pointed out in its Brussels Playbook. “The idea of having an American economist influence how the EU probes tech behemoths and defines its industrial policy was bound to be triggering.”
  • The fact that Morton has worked as a Big Tech consultant was also a point of contention. “Amazon Microsoft, and Amazon, these are precisely the companies that the EU is now trying to regulate,” France24’s Armen Georgian said.