On 14 November, Thierry Breton, the French Commissioner-designate for the Internal Market, was heard by the Parliamentary Committees on the Internal Market (IMCO) and Industry (ITRE).
Unlike Sylvie Goulard, the previous French Commissioner-designate, Thierry Breton managed to convince the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) of his ability to take on the role of Commissioner for the Internal Market. The portfolio is quite broad, spanning from digital to industry, space and defense. Breton managed to keep the focus away from ethical concerns and instead placed emphasis on policy substance. Breton’s position as former CEO of Atos raised some questions about potential conflicts of interest leading up to the hearing. However, Breton repeatedly stressed that he is committed to full transparency and that no conflict of interest will be present. Following the hearing, Breton was approved by the coordinators of both committees. More than a two-thirds majority approved his position, with the Greens and Radical Left being the only ones remaining critical.
In his opening statement, Breton summarized the challenges in the sector with three words: “protect, transform and protect”. In this context, he said that 5G, blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity, cloud and quantum technologies will enable the EU to be a key industrial player. He argued that the EU must be protected from unfair competition from non-EU markets and defended ambitious industrial policies, which also have to be socially responsible and inclusive.
In his hearing, Breton promised to work closely with the other Commissioners, especially with Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans. Breton stated that he will push the industrial pillar of the New Green Deal alongside Timmermans. He also said he will work with Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner-designate for jobs, on ensuring social rights for platforms workers such as Deliveroo and Uber.
François-Xavier Bellamy (EPP, France) asked Breton about competition. In his response, Breton said that there should be equal footing between competitors across various sectors. In addition, Breton emphasized the need for new competition rules that are compatible with the modern economy, and that support a strong Europe. Breton supported the use of public procurement and trade defense instruments to prevent unfair competition or unwanted investment from state-backed foreign companies, especially from China.
On the Digital Services Act, Breton said that the future text will be an adaptation of the e-Commerce Directive from 2000. He committed to the fact that it will not touch the limited liability regime of the legislation, which protects platforms from being legally responsible for illegal content they host, unless they have been notified to take it down. In addition, Breton stated that he was against general monitoring obligations for platforms and that he does not want to change the country of origin principle.
Regarding AI, Breton said there might not be concrete legislation in the first 100 days of the new mandate. He stated not to be “the voice of regulation on AI”. His position was supported by Dita Charanzová (Renew Europe, Czech Republic) who stressed that regulation for AI should not be rushed. Furthermore, Breton explained that AI relied on three pillars: data, computing power and algorithms.
Finally, Thierry Breton placed great emphasis on the greening of the economy. He pledged to support companies facing the green transition and work in an ambitious industrial policy. In the context of measures to protect European businesses from unfair competition and environment dumping, Breton stated he will support a carbon border tax.
The next step for the European Commission will be the formal approval of the entire College of Commissioners by the European Parliament. However, before that can happen all candidates must be approved by the committees and the Hungarian Commissioner-designate for neighborhood and enlargement has not yet been approved. He will face additional written questions in the coming week.