Published On: Thu, Oct 24th, 2019

Macron faced with furious backlash for top EU commission job plan ‘Has he learnt nothing?’ | World | News

Mr Breton, who was France’s finance minister under late President Jacques Chirac, has been chief executive at the technology group Atos since 2009 and spearheaded the turnaround of telecoms behemoth Orange in the early 2000s. But the announcement was met with immediate backlash from opposition politicians, who said Mr Breton has a conflict of interest that undermines his candidacy.

Like Mrs Goulard, his long career in the private sector is likely to come under scrutiny in the parliamentary hearings.

“Emmanuel Macron is taking yet another risk – he has clearly learnt nothing from the Sylvie Goulard case,” far-left MEP Manon Aubry told France Info radio.

“Suspicions of conflict of interest will likely overshadow his nomination.

Ms Aubry continued: “Thierry Breton is the CEO of a big company which has a vested interest in the EU’s internal market portfolio – namely with regards to industrial policy and technology. Atos receives European subsidies. He knows the industry well – maybe too well.”  

Green MEP Yannick Jadot made a similar argument, telling the news channel BFMTV that there would be a conflict of interest “problem”.

He said: “I understand that Thierry Breton is still a shareholder in the company. Atos is a big technology group which receives European subsidies and which is one of the bloc’s leading supercomputer manufacturers.  

“And what’s included in the internal market portfolio? Technology. And that could create a potential conflict of interest.”

The Elysée Palace, however, has described Mr Breton as a “man of action who knows industrial issues inside out and who, while knowing Brussels institutions, will not have a bureaucratic approach to European issues”.

Mr Macron’s office added Mr Breton had always recused himself as a minister whenever matters regarding the companies he worked with came on the government agenda and stressed he would do the same in his new role to avoid any conflict of interest.  

Junior Economy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher, for her part, told France 2 television that Mr Breton had been chosen for his “experience” and “skills”.

“I think that the aim is to have the best possible Commission,” she added.

Mr Breton said he would step down as Atos CEO on October 31.

Mr Macron is keen to preserve the huge portfolio he negotiated with incoming Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and has sought assurances from her that his new candidate would be approved.

MEP’s rejection of Mrs Goulard two weeks ago sparked anger in Paris. She was turned down by politicians over alleged her role in a jobs scandal, in which she denies wrongdoing, and also her work in previous years as an adviser for a US think-tank for which she was paid more than 10,000 euros a month.

Mr Macron said she had been the victim of a “political game” among rival political groups in the EU parliament, namely the conservative European People’s Party (EPP).

In July, Mr Macron killed off an EPP initiative to decide who would become the next head of the powerful Commission – which helps decide policy for 500 million EU citizens – drawing the group’s ire.

The battle for influence comes at a time when the EU executive needs a strong mandate to tackle a host of challenges over the next five years, ranging from rising populism at home to a more assertive China abroad.

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