An American economist is getting a top EU job. France's Macron isn't happy about it

France's President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he talks to journalists during the third EU-CELAC summit that brings together leaders of the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday, July 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Francois Walschaerts) (Francois Walschaerts, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BRUSSELS – With French President Emmanuel Macron insisting the European Union needs more strategic independence, he seemed decidedly piqued on Tuesday over the EU head office's plans 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?” Macron asked at a summit of EU leaders with their Latin American counterparts.

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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,” Macron said.

The EU's executive commission announced last week that it had appointed Yale economics professor Fiona 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.''

Macron insisted that he has nothing against 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.

Some other politicians and EU lawmakers — mainly French — have also voiced their complaints, although neither Macron nor members of the European Parliament questioned Scott Morton’s qualifications for the job.

While the European Commission stressed her track record in advising U.S. government agencies, Macron stressed her experience consulting for private companies — which include big tech firms such as Microsoft — and suggested that could pose a conflict of interest in her new job.

The commission has said Scott-Morton would have to recuse herself from certain files because of her previous job history.

Macron insisted that when the bloc wanted to gain more strategic independence in a global competitive world, “we need autonomy of thought. We have to mold spirits and use them," he said. Hiring an American for such a post “is not necessarily the most coherent decision.”

When European Commission competition chief Margrethe Vestager was grilled by a European Parliament committee on the controversial choice, she defended it staunchly.

“It would be wrong to deprive the commission and Europeans of the best economic advice, and there are not many people who can fulfil this specific role," she said.

Macron called it ‘’extremely worrying'' if no one in the EU is qualified for the job, a sign that “we have a very big problem with all European academic systems'' and ‘’must massively invest in academic research in economics.''

Scott Morton is expected to start work Sept. 1.

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Associated Press writer Angela Charlton contributed.