PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron nominated Thierry Breton as his candidate for European commissioner, after his original nominee was rejected by the European Parliament.
The president made the nomination “in full agreement with [European Commission President-elect] Ursula von der Leyen,” and he will be assigned the “same portfolio” as Macrons first candidate, Sylvie Goulard, an Elysée official said.
Macron has been adamant about preserving the immense portfolio he negotiated for the French commissioner, spanning the internal market, defense and digital issues, since the Parliament rejected Goulard in confirmation hearings at the beginning of October.
“I am very honored by the trust that President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen have put in me,” Breton said in a written statement. “I fully realize the importance of whats at stake with this portfolio for Europe and European citizens.” He added that he is “already focused on preparing hearings in the European Parliament” and that “appropriate arrangements for [his] succession have been made.”
Breton has both high-level political experience — having been Frances minister of the economy, finance and industry from 2005 to 2007 under Jacques Chirac — and a long career in the private sector, lately leading one of the countrys rare digital champions, Atos.
“Breton is brilliant, very smart, and has a lot of ideas but he is man of utmost arrogance, and that ego has harmed him a lot in his career” — French official
“Thierry Breton has strong experience in areas covered by this portfolio, specifically industry and digital, because he was a finance minister in charge of industrial policy. He was also a CEO of several companies in the industrial and telecom sector and has a strong reputation as a man of action,” an Elysée official told AFP.
Speaking on a visit to Helsinki, von der Leyen said she would invite Breton for an official interview as quickly as possible, “to go in depth on what Im expecting, what a modern approach to the single market is … combined with digitalization, which is of utmost importance for the future of our single market and our economy.”
A Commission official close to von der Leyens transition team said the president-elect has “not given any assurances” on Breton. “There cant be any assurances,” the official said and the “discussions about him will be done on an open stage.”
Von der Leyens first impressions of Breton are that he “is a very experienced man, particularly on digital issues,” the official said. The president-elect has met him only once, some years ago, on the recommendation of Wolfgang Schäuble, the current president of the Bundestag, according to the official.
European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images
She will meet both Breton and Hungarian nominee Oliver Varhelyi at the beginning of next week, the official said.
Breton was an early backer of Macrons candidacy during the 2017 French presidential election, and was a member of the official delegation that accompanied the president on his state visit to Washington in April 2018.
His nomination as a commissioner was not universally popular. “It is incomprehensible and a risky choice for Macron,” said a French high official with knowledge of EU issues. “Breton is brilliant, very smart, and has a lot of ideas but he is man of utmost arrogance, and that ego has harmed him a lot in his career.” The official also said he is “ignorant of European issues.”
And the former minister is widely seen as an old-school, right-wing politician, who first came to politics through Chiracs RPR party, and its successor the UMP — the forerunners of todays main French conservative party, Les Républicains. His business career is also likely to come under close scrutiny during the confirmation process in the European Parliament.
“With Thierry Breton new questions of conflict of interest arise. He is the shareholder of a company that gets European subsidies and that could lead to cutting down his portfolio,” French Green MEP Yannick Jadot said on French TV.
Others backed Bretons nomination. “I dont share his opinions but Thierry Breton has the skills and qualities for the European commissioner position,” former Prime Minister and Socialist Bernard Cazeneuve said on Frances