Atos CEO Thierry Breton might join race to become France’s new Commissioner pick

"A company like Atos in a portfolio that covers the domestic market, digital and defence will not be a problem," the French president said.

After the European Parliament rejected Sylvie Goulard as the French Commissioner, rumours suggest that Thierry Breton, the CEO of French multinational Atos, might be in the race. EURACTIV France reports.

Breton, the chief executive of multinational IT service and consulting company Atos, might well become France’s new candidate to take the Commissioner post, according to the satirical weekly newspaper Le Canard enchaîné.

In the race to replace Goulard, Breton will probably join Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, whose potential candidacy has been put back in the spotlight.

If confirmed, the chances of the French Commissioner still being a woman  – and thus upholding Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s strived-for gender balance – are now unlikely.

However, the suggestion appears surprising given that Goulard was rejected on ethical grounds and Breton does not exactly have the cleanest of sheets.

And although it has been two years since he passed the legal retirement age of 62, he has nevertheless been active among his political peers, which the French government might consider a plus.

Von der Leyen assigns defence challenge to France

France’s former defence minister, Sylvie Goulard, has been proposed as the EU’s internal market Commissioner. But her new portfolio also includes a strengthened European defence file, which analysts say will be her biggest challenge.

After serving as economy minister in the Chirac government between 2005 and 2007, the former right-wing politician has since been at the helm of various tech companies, such as Bull, France Telecom, Thomson Multimedia and now Atos.

This could mean that there are already several potential conflicts of interest.

Atos, the company he currently heads has a subsidiary that has been implicated in illegal espionage activities by states such as Egypt.

In the past, Breton has also been implicated and subjected to searches, particularly in the Rhodia case, where shareholders complained they had been tricked by the company’s management before its initial public offering. At the time, he chaired the audit committee of Rhodia, which has since merged with Solvay.

Proposal for a European Security and Defence fund

Three years ago, Breton put forward proposals for a European Security and Defence fund in a report published by the liberal think-tank Ifrap. He made those proposals even though the company he headed back then had been involved in such matters.

The main idea of the report was to pool defence costs at the European level through a fund that would make it possible to reduce the debt of certain states. In turn, this would improve the eurozone’s financial health and pool European defence management issues, rather than entrust it to a few member states such as France.

The defence fund that has been set up at the European level, for the time being, envisages investment in common military capabilities, but not the repayment of existing debts.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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