As of yesterday, we are one step closer to welcoming the new Commission. Following the rejection of the Commissioners-designates from Romania, Hungary and France, the replacement nominees have been ‘grilled’ by the responsible European Parliament committees yesterday. This was not without controversy. France’s candidate, Thierry Breton, faced concerns about a conflict of interests between his former job as chief executive of software giant Atos and the internal market portfolio. However, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee together with the Industry, Research and Energy Committee ‘grilled’ Breton yesterday and put surprisingly little pressure on him, leading to his approval for the Commissioner role. SOLIDAR Foundation is taking this timely opportunity to publish the French Country Report, developed in the framework of the Citizenship and Lifelong Learning Monitor 2018.
The situation that Mr. Breton finds himself in is surprising given that Sylvie Goulard, the previous French nominee, had been rejected on ethical and integrity grounds. Ms. Goulard failed to explain the monthly €10,000 that she received from an American think tank while an MEP as well as the manner in which she used assistants for domestic work during her tenure as MEP. Given this serious failure of integrity, Emmanuel Macron’s nomination of Mr. Breton appears shocking, and MEPs acceptance of this nominee even more so, as they seem to have changed their stance on integrity issues. Mr. Breton’s very recent role as industry manager, which he only renounced last month, coupled with his closeness to the digital sector, begs the question of his detachment from his previous role once in the regulatory position that his Commissioner role presupposes.
The humiliation that France would have faced had its second nomination also been rejected, in the context of the worrying possibility that the new European Commission may only take office in the new year, suggests the gamble of Mr. Breton’s nomination was a serious case of hubris by French officials. However, the unexpectedly easy confirmation Mr. Breton experienced vindicates the French officials while leaving many dumbfounded by the U-turn that MEPs took regarding the ethical considerations. The speculation that Ms. Goulard was rejected as part of an initiative to ensure that all big political groups had a nominee associated with them seems to have more standing after this dubious decision to green light Mr. Breton’s nomination.
The new portfolio for the Internal Market includes digitalisation and security as well, and it remains highly relevant for SOLIDAR Foundation given the responsibility of the new Commissioner to contribute to updating the Digital Education Action Plan. It remains to be seen how much focus digital citizenship will receive within this, beyond simply using the Action Plan as a tool to provide digital skills for labour market inclusion. France is a leading country in respect to the promotion of citizenship education, as can be seen from our Country Report, and it remains SOLIDAR Foundation’s hope that, if Mr. Breton takes up the Commissioner role, the French approach to citizenship education can be part of the revision of the Digital Education Action Plan. Though the situation in France is positive, our report highlights the need for a more equal relationship between the government and CSOs when designing public policy and the need for more sustainable funding for citizenship education among other recommendations. You can read more about these recommendations and the French context in our report.