Thierry Breton convinces MEPs, avoids same fate as Goulard

European Commissioner-designate in charge of internal market, French Thierry Breton during his hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 14 November 2019. [Olivier Hoslet/EPA/EFE]

Thierry Breton, France’s new Commission pick for the internal market and defence portfolio, got the green light from MEPs on Thursday (14 November), convincing more than two-thirds of the MEPs who were auditioning him. The Greens and the radical left were the only ones who appeared sceptical. EURACTIV France reports.

After a three-hour-long hearing, former Atos CEO, Breton managed to convince around 100 MEPs from two parliamentary committees that he would be fit to take on the portfolio in Ursula von der Leyen’s EU executive.

Compared to the French President Emmanuel Macron’s failed candidate, Sylvie Goulard (Renew), he started with a serious advantage: the strongest political group, the European People’s Party (EPP), of which he was a member in the past, immediately supported him. The EPP family had previously promised to ‘kill’ Renew’s candidate to get back at Macron.

None of the MEPs accused Breton of “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.

Even so, the hearing was marked by sharp criticism from left-wing MEPs, ranging from the German Social Democrats to the radical French left and the Greens. The MEPs’ main concerns were Breton’s long career in the private sector, which could create a multitude of conflicts of interest, they said

Breton said he had taken “radical” decisions on the issue, by selling all his shares, which he mostly held in Atos, and resigning from all his positions.

However, he assured that he would not withdraw from the sectors on which his previous company, Atos, focuses on.

“I will not deport myself, stop saying that,” he insisted in response to MEP Manuel Bompard, who is part of radical left party France Insoumise. However, he still agreed to the proposal of having an observer present each time he meets a representative of one of his former companies.

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

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.

On substance, the French candidate placed greater emphasis on technologies and digital technologies, issues that are dear to him. Although Breton will also man the space and defence portfolio, he was less vocal on these matters, despite having previously drafted a white paper on the creation of a European defence fund.

The candidate also insisted on his competition vision, and stated that he believes that competition rules must be modified, in particular, the notion of a “relevant market”, which is used to examine the scope of competition in which an actor operates.

“The regulation is 25 years old, whereas the platform has been in existence for 15 years,” stressed the candidate, who has also established himself as an ardent defender of the French cultural exception, an issue which also features in his portfolio.

Light on the energy transition

In an attempt to seduce the Socialists and Democratic (S&D) group, he also stressed the importance of offsetting the costs of the energy transition through compensation funds and referred to the carbon border tax.

However, the candidate was light on environmental and climate issues, as he pointed out that it takes 25 years for an industry to transform itself, and that rapid decisions must, therefore, be taken.

The EPP, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the S&D, and the Renew groups, all ended up supporting Breton’s candidacy.

The European Parliament must now approve the new College of Commissioners in a vote which will likely take place on 27 November.

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