With a past as both a politician and businessman, Breton is tasked with the Internal Market portfolio responsible for dossiers concerning industry and services, defence, space, audiovisual and tourism.
He has a background in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and national defense, and throughout his career he led different companies, from small systems-analysis ones to large national companies such as Thomson Multimedia and France Télécom. His latest role was as Chairman and CEO of Atos, an IT company that he had been leading since 2008. Once he was proposed as Commissioner, he pledged he would resign and sell his shares in the company to avoid any conflict of interest.
Breton served in the government as an adviser to the French Ministry of Education and Research in 1986. Later on, he was French Minister of Economy, Finance and Industry from 2005 to 2007, under the Chirac government. Towards the end of his mandate and before taking up his role at Atos, he taught Leadership and Corporate Accountability at Harvard Business School. He is the author of several books about information technology and economy.
Confirmation hearing highlights
Stressed the need to regulate tech and cyber space, as to ensure that single market rules are properly implemented
Insisted on the need to reinforce the European digital and technological sovereignty
“There is an urgent need to prepare tomorrow’s growth by investing today in the critical technologies of the future. I'm thinking of 5G, of course, but you also have to start preparing for 6G, artificial intelligence, the cloud and already the post-cloud, edge computing, the internet of things, cybersecurity of course, the blockchain [...]. And then, it will not surprise those who know me, for quantum technologies.”
Acknowledged that data protection is a key part in consumer protection
Claimed that he will be the “data Commissioner”, in charge of coming up with a new proposal for the safeguarding of EU citizens privacy when it comes to data sharing.
Companies need to store data, in order to innovate, but keep it anonymous to protect the privacy of EU citizens
Confirmed that the future Commission will propose new guidelines on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence within the first 100 days
“I’m not going to regulate in those 100 days. We'll see what the college says, I'll see what happens. I will be extremely supportive, but I will not, for the time being, speak for regulation.”
Wants to complement the AI plan with a strategy towards the establishment of a common data market
Confirmed the review of the E-Commerce Directive, but showed against modifying the limited liability regime
Stressed the fundamental importance to avoid further fragmentation of the internal market
Pledged to introduce a media and audiovisual action plan
His tasks for the next five years can be divided into three areas: 1) the digital economy and society, 2) a future-ready European industry and single market, and 3) defence industry and space.
For the digital part of his portfolio his task will be ‘’to put in place the right framework to allow Europe to make the most of the digital transition, while ensuring that our enduring values are respected as new technologies develop”. He will have lead on the work to enhance Europe’s technological sovereignty through substantial investment in blockchain, data sharing and defining standards for 5G networks. Main files for him will be the European approach to artificial intelligence and the new Digital Services Act. In addition, he is tasked with building a single market for cybersecurity, and with designing a European strategy for the data economy.
Secondly, Breton is assigned the vision for a comprehensive long-term strategy for Europe’s industrial future, including an SME strategy. He will need to focus on the implementation and enforcement of rules at the European, national, regional and local levels. He should establish a level playing field throughout the single market and contribute to the work addressing the distortive effects of foreign subsidies. Intellectual property regime will have to be monitored to ensure it is fit for the digital age.
Additionally, Breton will be responsible for the implementation and oversight of the European Defence Fund and he has to focus on building an open and competitive European defence equipment market. He will have to co-lead, with the commissioner for Transport, the implementation of the action plan on military mobility. To add to his varied package of tasks, Breton should foster a strong and innovative space industry, implement the future Space programme (Galileo and EGNOS) and satellite navigation system Copernicus. Lastly, President von der Leyen wants Breton to focus on improving the crucial link between space and defence and security.
What he will be working on
Breton announced during his hearing that, although the E-Commerce Directive (ECD) will be revised, the liability regime enshrined in it will not be touched. Other concepts that he plans to leave unchanged are the country of origin principle as well as the absence of general monitoring obligations.
Digital Services Act
The new legislation will broaden the scope of the ECD, from mere conduits such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to cloud hosting services, social networks and online platforms in general. The DSA will address obligations and responsibilities of platforms.
Although he declared he’s not going to be the face of AI regulation, Breton will participate in the collaborative efforts to come up with a plan in the first 100 days in office of the European Commission. He showed supportive of the process, but not necessarily in favour of proposing regulation in such a short time and will be open to listen to the opinion of the rest of the college and of the European Parliament.
Breton hinted that he would be keen on having a system to have citizens remunerated for the data gathered from them. That would have to come with an awareness-raising exercise of how and for what reasons data is collected, as well as its real value.He was also strong on the need to pool and share industrial data to boost progress.