Macron’s contentious Commissioner pick might face same fate as Goulard

None of the MEPs blamed Breton for "not having enough experience for the position", even though, compared to Goulard, he appears to be less experienced for what is virtually the same portfolio. 

Atos CEO Thierry Breton, the new candidate chosen by French President Emmanuel Macron, could risk being rejected by MEPs over potential conflicts of interest, which was the main reason the European Parliament ousted the president’s first candidate, Sylvie Goulard. EURACTIV France reports.

Macron’s plan B is quite risky as his new candidate for the EU Commissioner post comes with his own set of potential conflicts of interest.

Why the European Parliament rejected Sylvie Goulard

The parliamentary committees rejected the candidacy of France’s Sylvie Goulard for the Commissioner’s post, officially on ethical grounds. However, her refusal is also a sign that German conservatives are finding it difficult to trust French President Emmanuel Macron. EURACTIV France reports.

The new candidate picked by the French president already raises some questions among the MEPs, who will have to convene a hearing to validate him.

Breton, 64, used to serve as economy minister in Jacques Chirac’s government and is now the CEO of IT multinational Atos. One can say that he has quite the full curriculum, an argument that Macron highlighted when he announced Breton as France’s pick.

He is “someone who has the required skills and experience” for the Commissioner position, the head of state said on Thursday (24 October) during one of his trips to the Réunion Island.

The French President made it no secret that after Sylvie Goulard’s rejection, his priority was to find a candidate who would allow France to keep the very large internal market, digital and defence portfolio, which had already been assigned by the European Commission President-elect.

And in terms of skills and competence, Thierry Breton’s profile is widely praised.

However, the former minister’s professional career in the private sector gives rise to fears of a host of potential conflicts of interest, which could put him in a tight spot when he comes before the European Parliament.

The Parliament did not hesitate to refuse Sylvie Goulard’s application on ethical grounds, even though her competence was unanimously recognised in Brussels.

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

Breton’s profile has also seduced right-wing MPs in France. MP Christian Jacob, leader of Les Républicains (LR) welcomed Macron’s new choice on Twitter.

Macron proposes replacement Commissioner candidate

French President Emmanuel Macron revealed his substitute pick for France’s vacant European Commissioner slot on Thursday (24 October), naming former economy minister Thierry Breton. EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France reports.

Concerns in Parliament

But MEPs have already set the tone. They will not approve the French candidate without his declaration of interest first having been vetted by the European Parliament’s JURI committee.

The committee could even ask Breton to sell off all his shares in Atos if the committee considers these incompatible with his future mandate.

Breton’s hearing will then take place on 12 November before the three parliamentary committees (industry, single market and culture) relevant for his portfolio.

For the far-left France Insoumise (FI), the profile of the new candidate is already being questioned. “More than ever, it is essential that there is no suspicion of a potential conflict of interest, and here I am not sure that Macron has chosen the right candidate”, stressed MEP Manon Aubry (FI).

Another point of contention is the fact that Atos, which Breton plans to leave on 31 October, has regularly received EU subsidies.

For ecologist Yannick Jadot, Breton’s position as a member of the board of directors of several large companies such as Atos, Axa and Carrefour, is also a source of conflict of interest.

“The Rhodia case, which the European Parliament had examined, the agreement on the prices of the major telephone operators, as well as the sale of Canal+ Technologies to Thomson. The questions raised by Mr Breton’s career are indeed numerous. He also has a moral responsibility regarding the ‘suicide disaster’, which affected employees at France Telecom,” explained the French delegation of the social and ecological left of the European Parliament.

Say “bye-bye” to parity

Another stumbling block is that the choice of Breton ignores von der Leyen’s initial commitment to propose a gender-balanced college of Commissioners, an objective Macron had also supported.

To respect parity in the future executive, Hungary and Romania, which must also appoint new candidates for the post of Commissioner, should therefore both nominate women.

But Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen said she would not make this condition an imperative for both countries.

Von der Leyen leans on gender balance in quest for Commission presidency

In her first speech before the European Parliament on Tuesday (16 July), Ursula von der Leyen made gender equality a cornerstone of her case to be appointed as the first female European Commission president. And she received support for that from across the political spectrum.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

Subscribe to our newsletters