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Not Another American! Meet the New Favorite for Eu Competition Economist

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In the two weeks since Fiona Scott Morton was bullied out of the EU’s chief competition economist nomination for being American, only one new candidate has come to light — and he’s a U.S. citizen.

But you can put your pitchforks down. Florian Ederer is Austrian by birth, and has first-hand knowledge of sensitivities around citizenship. He only became American in May, after failing to meet nationality requirements for a chief economist role at the Federal Trade Commission last year. Emmanuel Macron was right: it’s not just the EU that has hang-ups about citizenship.

Ederer was willing to go to some length to keep his options open. “Austria is very, very very restrictive in its dual nationality arrangements,” he told POLITICO. To keep his Austrian citizenship, he was subjected to “a rather onerous procedure, including a 70-page dossier that outlines my contributions to economics and competition policy, and why it is in the interest of the Republic of Austria that I become a U.S. citizen.”

His thoroughness has paid off, as he now finds himself in a strong position to become the chief economist of the EU’s competition department, DG COMP. Besides the nationality issue, Scott Morton also drew criticism for having consulted for Big Tech firms. Ederer, by contrast, has mostly kept to academia and is fastidious about conflicts of interest.

“I have not done any consulting for any of the large tech firms,” he says. “It is important for economists to be very open and disclose their previous work as consultants or as expert witnesses. There is too little of that at the moment.” He did however say that the concerns over Scott Morton may have been overstated and that the attention should have focused more on “the immense expertise that she brings to the job.”

That suggests that Ederer’s path should be clear, if EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager and her team decide that he’s the best candidate for the job. There were no other strong candidates at the time of Scott Morton’s appointment, EU officials said then, so the field is presumably fairly empty. Nevertheless, some candidates may have held back, knowing Vestager favored Scott Morton; they may put in applications in the coming weeks now that the process is properly open.

For now, though, Ederer is the only known candidate. He says he was approached by officials from DG COMP about his interest in the role and that he’s keen to take it up. The EU is the “global leader in competition enforcement,” he says.

Killer acquisition

Ederer’s candidacy has been well received in the EU antitrust community. “This is a very good news, and I hope he is not the only very good candidate,” said Massimo Motta, who held the chief economist job a decade ago. Martin Peitz, an economist who supported Scott Morton’s candidacy, said Ederer “would be a very prominent appointment.” Several other prominent figures who spoke to POLITICO on background were equally supportive.

He became a professor at Boston University this year after 10 years as an assistant professor at Yale. He has done extensive research on killer acquisitions, where established companies pay top dollar for innovative start-ups, eliminating them before they can become serious competitors.

Ederer is sympathetic to arguments about whether competition policy should protect labor markets as well as consumers. “In the U.S. we’ve had this very big debate about whether the emphasis on consumer welfare standard is misguided,” he says, referring to new FTC guidelines. “The problem of market power in labor markets or input markets is just as important as the market power in product markets.”

He does not attach himself to every progressive cause, however, and is hesitant to use competition policy to further environmental goals. “That’s not what competition policy is set up to do,” he says.

He also said he was skeptical about loosening competition rules to promote industrial policy (Thierry Breton, take note). “I would put the biggest emphasis really on fostering competition, but not necessarily protecting competitors,” he says. “Therefore, even if it means that European companies might be at a slight disadvantage compared to Chinese companies, I still think that … the guiding principle should be protecting competition and not protecting competitors.”

Perhaps most importantly, he seems to relish the limelight — which is not a given, as competition economists were used to toiling in obscurity until relatively recently. Ten years ago, people’s “eyes would glaze over” when he talked about his work at cocktail parties, Ederer says. “Four or five years ago, that completely changed … It’s very much at center stage. This is the most exciting area to be in and I would be thrilled if I could contribute to that from a policy perspective.”

Source : Politico