Fortress Europe closed to outside experts


Fernando González Urbaneja| The European Commissioner for Competition, the Dane Margrethe Vestager, wanted to recruit an American expert with good credentials as her chief economist: Yale professor and competition expert Fiona Scott. The American was the best qualified, but her status as a non-European citizen was not acceptable to some governments, especially the French government, which used the concept of strategic autonomy to veto the professor.

The informal veto was enough for the expert to reverse her application to a technical position such as chief economist at the Commission. Who loses? Probably Europe, competition and the free movement of people and talent. French nationalism is well known, but it should not be taken for granted by the rest of the European partners.

Importing talent, especially in such a critical area as competition, does not seem to be bad business for the European Union, which is in great need of expanding its space for competition. The fact that Commissioner Vestager’s preferred candidate has worked in her own country as well as in academia advising well-known technology companies leads some to question her conflict of interest. Others see it as an advantage that she knows the ropes, the reality; such consultancy is experience as well as recognition of merit.

Fortress Europe is not strengthened by walls that prevent the entry of external talent; on the contrary, it is restrictive, conservative and ultimately impoverishing. Vestager’s proposal to provide the commissioner’s office with external expertise and knowledge is consistent with the aim of improving competitiveness and expanding the space of open and competitive markets.

Strategic autonomy is not achieved by closing borders, but rather by opening doors and windows in and out. Attracting talent is a precondition for progress. Vestager has tried, and failed. Europe loses.

About the Author

Fernando Gonzalez Urbaneja
Over 30 years working in economic journalism. Fernando was founder and chief-editor at El País, general editor at the business daily Cinco Días, and now teaches at Universidad Carlos III. He's been president of the Madrid Press Association and the Spanish Federation of Press Associations. He's also member of the Spanish press complaints commission.