Thierry Breton, who has been nicknamed the “enforcer” of digital policies in Europe and a critic of Elon Musk, is aiming for the top position in Brussels as President of the EU Commission.
Emmanuel Macron might be on the verge of providing him with assistance.
The Renaissance party, led by Macron, is actively seeking a strong candidate to spearhead their campaign in the upcoming European Parliament elections. The selected candidate would also have a strong chance of being chosen as the party’s nominee for Commission president once Ursula von der Leyen’s term ends in June following the elections.
Based on information from the French media and sources within Macron’s team, it is reported that Breton, a charismatic former telecommunications executive and current EU commissioner for France, is now being seriously considered.
A French diplomat informed POLITICO that it is widely known that he desires to pursue his current role. However, there is speculation about whether he should run as a lead candidate in order to retain his position as EU commissioner.
The job of running the Commission, the 27-country bloc’s executive arm, has become one of the most powerful roles in world politics. Von der Leyen is the EU’s most visible public official, regularly meeting world leaders such as China’s Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden, and has been the public face of the bloc’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The post will become available next summer, as the top positions in the Brussels institutions will be determined following the European Parliament elections.
It is still unknown if Von der Leyen is interested in serving a second term and she has been rumored to be a candidate for other prominent roles, including the head position at NATO.
The method for selecting the President of the Commission in the upcoming year is still undetermined. In practice, the EU’s political parties will nominate a predetermined front-runner who will use the European election to share their goals with voters. This procedure is referred to as the Spitzenkandidaten process in Brussels.
According to this system, the candidate from the party that receives the highest number of votes and seats in the European Parliament would have the best chance of becoming the Commission chief.
However, in 2014, the Commission president was selected in this manner, but the process was different in 2019. Von der Leyen was chosen for the position at a later time, as she had not run as a main candidate in the elections.
The French political establishment has historically been opposed to the Spitzenkandidat system because it removes the authority to select the Commission presidency from national leaders. Therefore, even if Breton were to be chosen as the primary candidate for Macron’s Renew party, he would still have to persuade the French president that he is the right candidate for the top position in Brussels.
Breton, a commissioner with significant influence, has seen his responsibilities expand to encompass digital policy in recent months. He is recognized in the EU as a representative of France’s economically interventionist approach, advocating for more flexibility in subsidy regulations and advocating for taking on the U.S. and China in trade disputes.
Last week, he appeared on a popular French TV program called “Quotidien” and grinned widely during a segment discussing his alleged desire to run for president.
If Breton were to be the top candidate for the French Renaissance party in the upcoming election, his significant influence in politics would make him a logical option for Spitzenkandidat for Renew.
There has been much talk that Breton has his sights on the highest position in the EU for several months now, as he has not explicitly denied it. In a recent interview with POLITICO, the French official even made a playful comment about potentially being a backup choice for Commission president in the future.
Over the past weekend, Breton refuted claims that he was being considered to participate in the European elections. During an interview on French television LCI, he stated, “Have I received any calls? No. Have I been invited to be the lead candidate for the [Renew party] in the European elections? No.”
However, just because he wasn’t directly asked doesn’t necessarily mean he would refuse the task. There is increasing speculation in France that Macron may support him.
According to an advisor to Macron, Breton has been a strong advocate for vaccines during the COVID pandemic and is a vocal supporter of electric cars for a more environmentally friendly world. He is seen as a representation of Europe’s efforts to improve the daily lives of its citizens.
According to several French officials interviewed by POLITICO, while Breton may align more closely with Macron’s beliefs, Paris also supports the possibility of von der Leyen being re-elected for a second term.
Other potential candidates for the lead position in the EU elections in France include Stéphane Séjourné, the leader of the liberal Renew Europe bloc in the European Parliament, among others.
A French diplomat raised uncertainty about whether Breton’s participation in the upcoming EU election would benefit his potential bid to lead the Commission. This is due to the unlikelihood of Macron’s Renew party gaining enough seats to have a significant influence.
Several French officials have stated that the French president, known for making last-minute choices on important appointments, has not yet decided on who he will support for the role of Commission president.
Ultimately, the outcome may hinge on Macron’s individual decision, in addition to the typical behind-the-scenes negotiations that are common in Brussels. It is difficult to predict the eventual victor at this stage.
Reporting was contributed by Laura Kayali, Nicholas Vinocur, and Pauline de Saint Remy.