12.18.19

Understanding Thierry Breton: Emmanuel Macron and His “Joker” in Brussels

Posted in Europe at 5:03 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Overview

Understanding Thierry Breton

Epilogue will follow.


ING
ING was quick off the mark to place its seal of approval on Breton’s appointment

Summary: How did Breton return to the political arena after an absence of over 10 years and ended up as the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market?

Following initial approval by the screening committee of MEPs on 14 November 2019, Thierry Breton’s appointment as the new EU Commissioner for the Internal Market was finally confirmed at a plenary session of the European Parliament held on 27 November 2019.

Ursula's tweet
Breton’s appointment as a member of the new EU Commission was confirmed on 27 November 2019

Before the official confirmation had been announced, Julien Manceaux a senior economist with ING Bank was already singing Breton’s praises in an adulatory puff-piece published by the bank under the title “France to get super-portfolio in new EU Commission”.

ING not found

For some unknown reason, the puff piece has disappeared from the ING website but it can still be found via Google Cache and on other websites where it was republished.

“So how did he return to the political arena after an absence of over 10 years and ended up as the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market?”The sole opposition to Breton’s appointment in the European Parliament came from MEPs of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left bloc (GUE/NGL) who expressed concerns about his conflicts of interest. The MEPs who criticised his appointment took the position that he should not be placed in charge of a portfolio that has significant areas of overlap with his previous private sector activities as CEO of the French multinational Atos.

In an earlier part of this series, it was explained how Breton previously pursued a brief but eventful political career as Chirac’s entrepreneurial “joker” in Bercy between 2005 and 2007. So how did he return to the political arena after an absence of over 10 years and ended up as the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market? To understand this, it’s necessary to take another look at domestic politics in France and the rise of Breton’s current political sponsor, Emmanuel Macron.

To the uninformed Breton and Macron seem like improbable political bedfellows.

“To the uninformed Breton and Macron seem like improbable political bedfellows.”The former CEO at France Télécom served his political apprenticeship in the ranks of the centre-right UMP under the guiding hand of Jacques Chirac, a convicted felon, who received a two year suspended sentence in 2011 for “longstanding and reiterated practices” of illegal party financing during his time mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

According to media reports, Chirac was involved in channeling about € 2.2 million from the City of Paris to pay for at least 21 people who were employed in fake jobs on the city payroll while actually engaged in national party politics as he prepared to run for the presidency.

Chirac, Breton
Breton was the “teacher’s pet” of his mentor Jacques Chirac

Breton was the “teacher’s pet” among a number of prominent French political figures including, Nicolas Sarkozy and Christine Lagarde, who were mentored by “Oncle Jacques”.

At the beginning of his career, Sarkozy had very close ties to the Chirac clan. At one stage he was touted as a prospective son-in-law due to his rumoured liaison amoureuse with Chirac’s daughter Claude.

Sarko, Chirac
The youthful Sarkozy attending a tennis tournament
together with Papa Chirac and daughter Claude (1985)

But the ambitious understudy Sarkozy had plans of his own which eventually led to a political rift with his mentor.

It was on the opposite side of the bipartisan divide that Emmanuel Macron cut his political teeth. From 2006 to 2009, he was a member of the Socialist Party.

Hollande Flanby
François Hollande – nicknamed “Flanby” after Nestlé’s wobbly caramel pudding

Macron’s patron and mentor in the Socialist party was François Hollande, nicknamed “Flanby” after a brand of wobbly caramel pudding produced by Nestlé. Hollande’s public image as a vacillator and his perceived lack of resolve led to him being lampooned as “a living marshmallow”.

In May 2012. when Hollande defeated Sarkozy to become President of the Republic, he persuaded the Macron to join his team as a deputy secretary general, which gave the ambitious “boy wonder” a role as one of the President’s key advisers.

Hollande, Macron
Macron with his patron and mentor François Hollande

In August 2014, Macron was elevated to a cabinet position as Minister for the Economy and Industry where he championed a number of business-friendly reforms.

Two years later in August 2016, he resigned from the government to launch his own campaign for the 2017 presidential election under the banner of a new “centrist” political movement called En Marche! which he had founded in April 2016.

Macron as centrist
Ex-banker Macron reinvents himself as a new “centrist” demagogue

To those unfamiliar with the French political landscape, the reincarnation of the UMP-aligned Thierry Breton as Macron’s “joker” in Brussels has the appearance of a miraculous and inexplicable transformation. But as soon as one makes the effort to look beyond the façade of bipartisan politics in France the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into place and everything suddenly becomes much less mysterious.

What needs to be understood here is that, irrespective of whether their political roots are in the nominally “centre-right” UMP or in the nominally “centre-left” Socialist Party, all French Presidents are ultimately faithful and obedient servants of the plutocratic elite who call the shots behind the scenes.

ENA presidency
Énarques to a man – with the exception of Sarkozy.

With the exception of Nicolas Sarkozy, all Presidents of the postwar Fifth Republic have been graduates of the grandes écoles, a group of highly selective and elitist educational establishments that are separate to the main framework of the public university system.

“With the exception of Nicolas Sarkozy, all Presidents of the postwar Fifth Republic have been graduates of the grandes écoles…”Staring with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who succeeded Georges Pompidou — and once again with the exception of Sarkozy — the office of President has been occupied since 1974 by an Énarque, as the graduates of the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA) are known.

The ENA was created in 1945 by French President, Charles de Gaulle, and the principal author of the French Constitution, Michel Debré, as part of a plan for the reform of the civil service in postwar France. The implementation of this plan was, to a large extent, entrusted to the Stalinist Maurice Thorez, leader of the French Communist Party (PCF) who served as Deputy Prime Minister from 1946 to 1947.

ENA and water
France’s ENA – a Stalinist-inspired finishing school for the technocratic elite

One of the remarkable ironies of the Fifth Republic is that the ENA was established with the aim of democratising access to the senior civil service in postwar France. However, it soon developed into the incubator of a new technocratic elite whose members form a tightly-knit network that suffers from an almost pathological level of groupthink.

The formation at the ENA leads to the forging of incestuous bonds between future political, administrative and business leaders, and these are reinforced as the Énarques circulate between these spheres of activity in the course of their careers thanks to the ubiquitous revolving doors linking the public and private sectors.

French presidents alongside
Sarkozy (UMP), Hollande (Socialist) flanking Macron (“Centrist”): “Gentlemen, if we continue walking in this direction I am confident that we will arrive at a revolving door in due course…”

The result is complete and utter “Énarchie” — the emergence of a veritable mafia-like entity that dominates political and business life and where loyalty to the “brotherhood” outweighs all other considerations including such trivial things as party political allegiances.

“The formation at the ENA leads to the forging of incestuous bonds between future political, administrative and business leaders, and these are reinforced as the Énarques circulate between these spheres of activity in the course of their careers thanks to the ubiquitous revolving doors linking the public and private sectors.”As Alain Madelin, Minister for Industry under Jacques Chirac, once put it: “Ireland has the IRA, Spain the ETA, Italy the Mafia, and France has the ENA.”

An illustrative example of the extreme fluidity of political boundaries in France can be found in the case of Bernard Tapie, businessman, occasional actor, singer, TV host and convicted corruptionist.

Tapie is associated with the Radical Party of the Left, a close ally of the main centre-left Socialist Party, and he briefly served as Minister for Urban Affairs under the Socialist President François Mitterand from December 1992 to March 1993.

“This kind of shenanigans is par for the course in the Machiavellian world of French politics.”However, during the 2007 presidential election, Tapie switched his political allegiance to UMP candidate Sarkozy. Tapie’s ideological U-turn was attributed to “tax issues” which Sarkozy reportedly promised to resolve if he were elected. Detail which subsequently emerged in court during the trial which led to the conviction of Christine Lagarde in 2016, indicate that Sarkozy kept his promise to Tapie.

This kind of shenanigans is par for the course in the Machiavellian world of French politics.

So when the new “centrist” movement set up by the Énarque Macron started to gain traction in 2016, various figures from different regions of the party political spectrum emerged from the wings to hitch their horses to his bandwagon as it started rolling across the French political landscape.

Macron sheet
A new political “star” is born… the unstoppable rise of Emmanuel Macron

For example, the former UMP President Sarkozy seized his chance for a come-back on Macron’s coat-tails. This led him to initiate a bizarre political courtship with the new kid on the block which slowly blossomed into a “strange bromance”.

Macron, Sarko
“Nice” to see you, to see you “Nice”…
Emmanuel and Nicolas bromancing at an official celebration in Nice (14 July 2017)

Sarkozy has been plagued by multiple scandals since losing his 2012 re-election bid. Amongst other things, he is reportedly under investigation or facing trial on various charges of corruption and influence peddling. However, none of that seems to bother Macron who sends him around the world on diplomatic missions at taxpayers’ expense to places as diverse as Georgia and Japan.

Just like his erstwhile cabinet colleague Sarkozy, Thierry Breton was another former UMP luminary who decided to put his money on the new rising star of the French political firmament.

On 12 April 2016 — less than a week after the inauguration of En Marche!” — the new “Sequana” supercomputer from Bull was unveiled by the Atos CEO in the presence of his VIP guest, who at the time still held the post of Minister for Economy and Finance.

Macron, Breton
“The hardware is awesome, all we need now is someone to take care of the software…”
“How about getting Benoît to do the job? I have heard the most wonderful stories about his achievements at the EPO.”

Fast forward to April 2018: less than a year into Macron’s presidency Thierry was beginning to reap the dividends for pursuing his “early adoption” strategy.

Macron, Trump
Emmanuel and “the Donald” at the White House in April 2018

To be more precise, the Atos CEO was selected to accompany the French President on a state visit to the good ol’ US of A in the context of a transatlantic charm offensive targeting “the Donald”. This provided the Atos CEO with a golden opportunity for some high-level corporate networking and a chance to promote his own proprietary brand of French “Bull”.

Breton tweet on Macron
Thierry promoting his own proprietary brand of French “Bull” in the USA

Thierry didn’t just enjoy “Breakfast in America” with Emmanuel. He also made it onto the exclusive guest list for the state dinner at the White House.

White House list
After a hard day’s networking, time to grab a nosebag at the White House…

Thierry was joined at the banquet table in no. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington D.C. by some familiar faces including… wait for it, folks… his old cabinet colleague, the IMF “killer-shark” Christine Lagarde and LVMH’s Lord of Luxury, the one-and-only Bernard Arnault.

Breton’s prominent role in Macron’s entourage during the US state visit in April 2018 is indicative of his privileged position in the French President’s “inner circle”.

“Breton’s prominent role in Macron’s entourage during the US state visit in April 2018 is indicative of his privileged position in the French President’s “inner circle”.”When Sylvie Goulard, Macron’s initial nominee for EU Commissioner, came a cropper after an intense grilling before the European Parliament in October of this year it was no real surprise to those in the know when the French President turned to his trusted friend, Atos CEO Thierry Breton, to help him out of a hole.

Initial speculation that Breton’s nomination might meet the same fate as that of Madame Goulard turned out to be unfounded and his place in the new EU Commission has now been officially rubber-stamped.

In the next part we will examine some high-level connections to the world of international finance which Macron and Breton have in common.

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