European Commissioner Thierry Breton Sparks Controversy with EPP Critique

Simona Mazzeo

European Commissioner Thierry Breton criticized the European People’s Party, questioning their support for Ursula von der Leyen. The move sparked ethical concerns.

Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the Single Market, got into trouble after he made a critical post against the European People’s Party. In a post, he raised ethical questions ahead of the elections. In a short but fierce message, Breton accused the centre-right group of failing to offer overwhelming approval to Ursula von der Leyen as the lead candidate.

At the European People’s Party Group congress ending in Bucharest on Thursday, von der Leyen obtained 400 votes in favour and 89 against. According to the party, 737 representatives had voting rights, and 591 were recorded to vote. The statement that Breton emphasised erroneously put the number of qualified voters at 801, pushing von der Leyen’s victory margin to appear smaller.

“Despite her qualities, Ursula von der Leyen (was) outvoted by her party,” Breton stated in a post on X. “The real question now: ‘Is it possible to (re) entrust the control of Europe to the EPP for five more years, or 25 years in a row?’ The EPP itself does not seem to believe in its candidate,” he also noted.

The crucial post, which is entirely irrelevant to Breton’s portfolio, instantly raised ethical questions, as it occurred to run counter to the Commission’s inner guidelines for participation in the elections, assumed in mid-January. The revised rules allow Commissioners to participate in campaigns for the June elections without carrying unpaid leave, as President von der Leyen and Commissioner Nicolas Schmit are accomplishing for the EPP and the Party of European Socialists, respectively.

However, the handbook sets strict limits to mark a clear line between the moves of a person as Commissioner, a politically autonomous position, and candidate or campaigner, which is inherently partisan. Among these is the responsibility to “create a separate social media account for the movement,” as von der Leyen and Schmit have already done, “and for any statement of intervention on behalf of a party or a candidate.”

Another condition prevents Commissioners from utilising the executive’s “human and material resources for any moves linked to the campaign.” Questioned about a potential violation of conduct, a Commission spokesperson expressed all members of the institutions had to “exercise judgment” when involving the rules but refused to deliver a detailed assessment of Breton’s abuse.

“It is clear that this statement is a personal remark and is not constructed in his capacity as Commissioner,” a spokesperson stated on Friday afternoon.

“The Secretary-General will transmit a reminder to all Commissioners about the procedures that have been defined for the period of the electoral campaign that every College member must apply.”

Thierry Breton is a Frenchman with a CEO background. He was nominated for his position by  President Emmanuel Macron. His party, Renaissance, sides with Renew Europe, the liberal formation in the European Parliament. The website of Renew Europe recognises Breton as a member of “our family in Europe,” together with other Commissioners like Margrethe Vestager, VÄ›ra Jourová and Didier Reynders.

Renew Europe is consequently in direct competition with the EPP and the PES for the enormous share of seats in the Parliament. The liberals will show their 10-point manifesto and lead candidates on 20 March. Although Breton has not joined the race – at least not officially – he has created no secret of his desire to remain in the next Commission. His name has been sailed as Commissioner for Defence, a portfolio von der Leyen has pledged to create if re-elected. However, the assignment of tasks relies on the president’s vision and is often affected by personal dynamics and political considerations.

In a scathing reply, Thanasis Bakolas, the EPP’s secretary general, thanked Breton for his stake in the party and pointed out the dissatisfaction prospects that liberals encounter, as they are projected to fall from third to fifth position. “I know the liberals are anxious about the forthcoming European elections – having no foresight, no statement, no relevance,” Bakolas stated.

“And I know that things are challenging in France for Renaissance, as they are squeezed by the extremes they helped to grow by weakening the traditional centre-left & the centre-right,” he went on. Wish you the best in the campaign!”

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Simona Mazzeo is a journalist at Brussels Morning News. She is covering European Parliament, European Council, European Commission & Italy News. She is a law graduate and lawyer residing in Agropoli, has carved out a multifaceted career dedicated to justice and social advocacy. She actively serves as a delegated councilor for the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Bar Association of Vallo della Lucania, championing fair and equal representation within the legal system. Recognized for her expertise and empathy, Simona is qualified for registration in the list of Special Curators of minors in civil and criminal matters at the Court of Vallo della Lucania, ensuring the rights and interests of vulnerable children are protected throughout legal proceedings. Beyond her legal practice, Simona demonstrates a strong commitment to social causes. She is a founding member of the Free Lawyer Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing legal assistance to those who cannot afford it. Additionally, she leverages her knowledge and passion for social justice as a non-professional journalist, contributing insightful and informative pieces on relevant legal and societal issues. Through her diverse endeavors, Simona Mazzeo exemplifies dedication to legal excellence, social responsibility, and a fervent belief in equal access to justice for all.