Key MEPs on Thursday confirmed Thierry Breton, France’s nominee for the internal market portfolio, following his hearing in the European Parliament, according to four Parliament officials.
The coordinators of the center-right European People’s Party, the Socialists & Democrats, the European Conservatives and Reformists and the centrist Renew Europe from the industry and internal market committees voted in favor of Breton, clearing his path to confirmation.
Approval for the French nominee comes a month after the Parliament rejected Sylvie Goulard, France’s first choice for the post, over legal and ethical concerns in a blow to French President Emmanuel Macron.
Breton succeeded in alleviating concerns about potential conflicts of interest linked to his extensive background in the private sector, including at the helm of tech company Atos. Thierry Breton will be in charge of key digital policy as part of his portfolio spanning digital, industry, space and defense.
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“Thierry Breton is fit to become the Commissioner for Internal Market,” the Socialists and Democrats group said in a tweet after the vote. “But we will monitor his commitments to avoid conflicts of interest during his mandate.”
According to Parliament officials, Greens didn’t oppose Breton but they wanted further clarifications. The far-right ID group also requested additional questions.
Confronted by MEPs from the Greens and far-left GUE/NGL group on conflicts of interests, Breton showed a document in the form of “a certificate” to prove that he had sold his shares “on the market.”
“I no longer have any interests in the companies I have led. Zero,” he added. He also promised that he would “walk out of the room” if there was a case involving his former company, Atos, and committed to “never [receiving] a member of a company [he has] led alone in [his] office.”
Responding to Marie Toussaint, a French MEP from the Greens group who noted some concern about Breton’s nomination creating a suspicious “mix of genres,” Breton, again, insisted that the European commission had rules “made precisely for people like me.”
“I will be radical in strictly applying that principle.” “Everything is transparent, this house, your house is a glass house,” he said. “Whatever I do is recorded.”
Unlike in Goulard’s hearing, MEPs from key political groups challenged Breton mainly on issues linked to his portfolio.
His most notable remarks concerned artificial intelligence, including his resistance to create new laws in the next European Commission’s first 100 days. “I am not saying we will have regulation on AI in the first 100 days. I won’t be the voice of regulation on AI,” he said.
Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen has said she will present a European legislative framework for AI in the first 100 days. An internal document obtained by POLITICO provided further details on the future Commission’s plans, including a law on liability for “damage caused by AI application” for late 2020.
Breton had cleared the first hurdle earlier this week — winning approval of his financial declaration by the Parliament’s legal affairs committee — by 12 votes to 11.
“Thierry Breton brings vital experience from the private sector to the European Commission. It’s important that the new college of Commissioners not only consists of career politicians,” said Parliament Vice President Dita Charanzovà, from Macron’s Renew Europe.