French President Emmanuel Macron has nominated Thierry Breton, former finance minister and current chief of technology company Atos, as the nation’s EU commissioner, according to The Independent.
Macron’s initial pick for commissioner, Sylvie Goulard, was rejected by the European Parliament, which must approve the nominations. Breton could be well-positioned to gain the approval of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), which has the most members of any party in parliament and played a key role in blocking Goullard’s appointment.
Macron is hoping that Breton will be appointed to the same broad portfolio that was initially negotiated for Goulard, including
Tara Varna, head of the ECFR think tank in Paris, told Reuters that Breton may have a good chance of approval by the European Parliament. She said the pick was the “best tactical decision” for Macron.
But for others, Breton has proven to be a controversial choice. One unnamed, senior French official told Politico:
“It is incomprehensible and a risky choice for Macron. 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.”
Atos has also been the subject of several controversies in the UK, and Breton’s career in the private sector could draw scrutiny in parliament. Officials have said Breton would recuse himself from any matters that would create a conflict of interest, and he’s announced plans to resign from his role at Atos at the end of this month.
When he announced his plan to step down, Breton also told reporters that he planned to focus on helping Europe’s private sector compete with that of the US.
“You may start to see some European companies performing better than U.S. companies, you need to get used to this, and I will work for this where I will be.”
Breton served as finance minister under President Jacque Chirac, and has headed Atos since 2009. He was also an early supporter of Macron’s presidential campaign in 2017.
Each EU member state appoints a commissioner, who must be approved by parliament. Together with its president, the commission acts as the executive branch of the EU government.
One official said that while she hasn’t given any assurances on the appointment, Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen believes Breton “is a very experienced man, particularly on digital issues.”
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