With his new nominee for the European Commission, Emmanuel Macron hasnt gone for the safe option.
By choosing Thierry Breton, the CEO of tech firm Atos and a former finance minister, the French president risks another clash with the European Parliament that rejected his first pick.
And if Breton is confirmed in the super-portfolio earmarked for France, his track record suggests possible tension with other commissioners, such as antitrust supremo Margrethe Vestager.
Getting Breton confirmed will be crucial for both Macron and Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen, who were dealt a blow by the rejection of the original French nominee, Sylvie Goulard, over ethical and legal concerns.
That failure, combined with the rejection of the Hungarian and Romanian candidates, meant von der Leyens Commission will not take office as planned on November 1. A second rebuff for a French nominee would likely further delay the start of the new Commission and raise more serious questions over the judgment of both Macron and von der Leyen.
“He has very solid experience in the main components of the portfolio, namely all the economic issues regarding the market, industry, digital and also a bit on space and defense” — Elysée official on Thierry Breton
The French government portrayed Breton as the ideal fit for the beefed-up internal market portfolio, which is slated to span technology, defense, space and industrial policy.
“He has very solid experience in the main components of the portfolio, namely all the economic issues regarding the market, industry, digital and also a bit on space and defense,” said an Elysée official.
“He was minister of the economy and in that capacity he worked on economic and industrial policies at the European level so he got to know [EU] institutions in this context,” the official said. “He is a renowned business leader, he ran big corporations … He is a man of action who knows how to carry out projects.”
But it is precisely that background in the private sector that may give Breton trouble when his nomination is scrutinized by the European Parliament.
European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen | Sean Gallup/Getty Images
French anti-corruption NGO Anticor indirectly targeted Breton in a legal complaint linked to both his political and corporate activities.
The French delegation of the Socialists & Democrats group in Parliament gave a foretaste of the reception Breton may face from MEPs with a statement that declared his business career raised “numerous questions.”
Macron, however, pushed back strongly against such concerns.
“If you start to say we can no longer give public responsibilities to someone who accepts to greatly reduce his salary — to go from running a listed company that is very successful to become European commissioner — if its enough to have a legal complaint against you to no longer have access to these jobs, no one will be able to have access to these jobs,” he said during a visit to La Réunion, a French territory in the Indian Ocean.
Macron stressed that filing a legal complaint was an easy step to take, requiring no proof of wrongdoing. “I think we need to stay reasonable and not sully people as soon as they raise their hand,” he said.
Von der Leyen will meet Breton next week for a formal interview but, given that she has already consulted with the French president over the nomination, it would be a major surprise if she did not put him forward for confirmation.
Breton would then be scrutinized first by the Parliaments Legal Affairs Committee, which will examine possible conflicts of interest. If he gets over that hurdle, he will face a three-hour confirmation hearing from members of the two major committees overseeing the internal market portfolio.
The French leftists statement linked Breton to the Rhodia affair, a fraud case involving the French chemical company Rhodia between 1999 and 2004. They also cited a “significant risk of conflicts of interest,” as Atos has benefited from substantial amounts of EU funds.
“After Sylvie Goulards crash, if President Macron thinks that Thierry Bretons hearing will be a formality, hes making a big mistake,” the statement said.
Manon Aubry, a French MEP from the left-wing GUE group who sits on the Legal Affairs Committee, said that Atos received €107 million in EU funding in 2018. “Macron again picked a candidate prone to conflicts of interest. I look forward to the hearing,” she tweeted.
However, much will depend on how leaders of the mainstream groups, especially the broader Socialists & Democrats bloc, respond to Bretons nomination. While the blocs small French delegation was vocal in its criticism, overall group leaders largely stayed silent.
Breton himself did not respond on Thursday to the allegations made against him. He issued only a brief statement at the start of the day, saying he was “very honored” to have been selected by Macron.
“After Sylvie Goulards crash, if President Macron thinks that Thierry Bretons hearing will be a formality, hes making a big mistake” — Statement from the French delegation of the Socialists & Democrats
Macron will be relieved that the nomination got a positive initial reaction from members of the center-right European Peoples Party (EPP) group in the Parliament, which led the opposition to Goulard.
Christian Ehler, the EPP coordinator for the Internal Market Committee, said “having an entrepreneur on board will allow a better link between public pRead More – Source