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12.21.19

Understanding Thierry Breton: A “Club Med” Coup in Brussels?

Posted in Europe at 8:20 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Overview

Understanding Thierry Breton

Epilogue will follow.


Macron Club Med
Macron flanked by his “Club Med” allies, Spanish and Portuguese PMs, Sanchez and Costa, preparing for the EU version of “Game of Thrones” in June 2019

Summary: Macron must have known that Goulard’s indictment was in the pipeline, so why would he have nominated such a “ticking time-bomb” for a key EU position unless he was certain that she would never make it through the parliamentary gauntlet?

In July 2017, Reuters reported that Macron was planning a “Jupiterian” presidency – as “a remote, dignified figure, like the Roman god of gods, who weighs his rare pronouncements carefully…”

The newly-elected President’s delusions of Olympian grandeur earned him the nickname “Manupiter” in the French press. But the honeymoon period with the French electorate was brief.

Liberation on Macron
By Jove! The French press pokes fun at Macron’s delusions of Olympian grandeur

Before long the shine started to come off his would-be “Jupiterian” presidency as he was faced with increasing levels of public disaffection accompanied by their serious civil unrest of the “yellow vests” movement, a populist grassroots movement for economic justice that began in France in October 2018.

Notwithstanding the problems which have beset him on the domestic front, Macron hasn’t been deterred from pursuing his political machinations on the wider international stage, in particular at EU level in Brussels.

This series was initially inspired by the manner in which he parachuted Atos CEO, Thierry Breton, into the position of EU Commissioner for the Internal Market in the autumn of 2019.

“This series was initially inspired by the manner in which he parachuted Atos CEO, Thierry Breton, into the position of EU Commissioner for the Internal Market in the autumn of 2019.”But Breton’s appointment wasn’t Macron’s first successful “coup” at EU level.

Earlier in the year, during the summer of 2019, Macron was already playing a leading role in the political lobbying and horse-trading which led to the appointment of Christine Lagarde and Ursula von der Leyen to other top EU jobs.

The EU deal brokered by Macron in July 2019 also included the nomination of Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister and a Macron ally, for the European Council presidency and Josep Borrell, Spain’s Francophone foreign minister, to be the EU’s next High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

EU dream team
EU dream-team with “a clear French imprimatur” (from left to right): Christine Lagarde, Josep Borell, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel

The EU’s version of the “Game of Thrones” kicked off in May 2019 when European Council President Donald Tusk announced that he wanted to have the distribution of the bloc’s top jobs decided in June. It was agreed among the heads of the EU’s member states that an “emergency summit” should be held as soon as possible after the EU elections on 28 May 2019 to deal with the matter.

During the lead-up to the EU summit in June, Macron met with the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Paris. One of the main reasons for this meeting seems to have been to prepare a common “Club Med” policy on the carve-up of top jobs in Brussels.

Macron, Berlin
Political street theatre in Berlin depicting Macron and Sanchez warming up for the EU “Game of Thrones”

As reported by the Financial Times on 29 May 2019, the main objective of the common front between the “centrist” Macron and the “socialist” Sanchez was to prevent the German conservative Manfred Weber from succeeding Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission.

At the time in question, Weber was the favoured candidate of the conservative and liberal-conservative EPP bloc in the European Parliament and he seemed like the leading contender for the job.

“It was agreed among the heads of the EU’s member states that an “emergency summit” should be held as soon as possible after the EU elections on 28 May 2019 to deal with the matter.”However, with a British departure from the EU looming on the horizon, Macron’s main concern at European level was to position France in a dominant role in the post-Brexit EU.

Macron’s goal in this regard is entirely consistent with a long line of French political thought abut Europe going back to Charles de Gaulle, the “grandfather” of the Fifth Republic (and undoubtedly tinged with a degree of historical nostalgia for the Napoleonic era).

According to de Gaulle, the EU — in those days the European Economic Community (EEC) — is to be understood as a horse and carriage: Germany is the horse and France is the coachman.

As far as “Manupiter” was concerned, The EPP candidate for head of the EU Commission, Manfred Weber was a potential obstacle to his plans on the European stage.

“According to de Gaulle, the EU — in those days the European Economic Community (EEC) — is to be understood as a horse and carriage: Germany is the horse and France is the coachman.”If Weber succeeded Juncker at the head of the Commission, then it would be difficult to get Germany to dance to the Gaulliste-inspired “mélodie” which he hoped to play in Brussels.

Macron’s strategy for derailing Weber relied on outmanoeuvring the EPP by forging a cross-party “Club Med” dominated alliance between his own “centrist” Renew Europe bloc and Social-Democrats and Greens.

Along with Sanchez, the Portuguese Prime Minster António Costa was also drafted into the “Club Med” alliance and he appeared for photo-ops with Macron and Sanchez on the margins of the EU summit in Brussels on 20 to 21 June 2019.

Following the June summit, it became clear that Macron’s “Club Med” lobbying had paid off and that Weber was unlikely to get the position that he had been angling for.

The meeting on 20-21 June 2019 confirmed that Weber did not have sufficient cross-party support to enable his bid to succeed but it failed to produce a positive outcome. And so a continuation summit was scheduled to take place on 30 June to 2 July 2019.

However, Macron’s efforts to nobble Weber were causing friction with the German Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, who supported Weber’s bid to succeed Juncker.

“As far as “Manupiter” was concerned, The EPP candidate for head of the EU Commission, Manfred Weber was a potential obstacle to his plans on the European stage.”In an attempt to smooth things out with Merkel, Macron started dropping her name in public as a possible replacement candidate for Weber. For example, in an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS on 12 June 2019, he said that while he could not speak for her, he would support her in any bid to become president of the EU’s executive branch of the European Union.

It seems that Merkel had no ambitions to take over the reins from Juncker and effectively ruled herself out as a candidate. But in the end, the ever-resourceful Macron came up with an ingenious proposal that would keep everybody happy — apart from Manfred Weber.

As the “Game of Thrones” in Brussels entered a further and increasingly fractious round during the summit on 30 June to 2 July 2019, Macron came up with a package which included the proposal that the beleaguered German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen should inherit Juncker’s mantle.

As already explained in the preceding part of the series, von der Leyen’s nomination suited Macron because it offered him the prospect of a Francophile ally who was open to French ideas on EU reform, particular in the areas of defence and economic integration.

“…von der Leyen’s nomination suited Macron because it offered him the prospect of a Francophile ally who was open to French ideas on EU reform, particular in the areas of defence and economic integration.”It also suited von der Leyen herself because her political future on her home ground in Germany was beginning to look increasingly uncertain.

And last but not least, the proposal suited Angela Merkel. Despite the fact that she had to drop her preferred candidate, Weber, the new candidate was also a German so she could use this in an attempt to sell the compromise to the general public back home as a “win” for Germany. And because von der Leyen, like Weber, was a member of the CDU, she could also hope to save face with her own party.

The only dissatisfied customer was the unsuccessful candidate Manfred Weber who openly expressed disappointment at his defeat and accused Macron of collaborating with the controversial Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán in a manner which “damage[ed] democratic Europe” and left the EU institutions “in a shambles”.

It seems that Macron successfully exploited tensions between the EPP and Orbán’s Fidesz party which although nominally aligned to the EPP had been suspended from the centre-right bloc in March 2019 due to alleged breaches of its values.

When Macron put his proposal on the table on the third day of tortuous political arm-wrestling it broke the deadlock and permitted the relatively amicable closure of an intense and fractious summit marked by discordant negotiations that at times looked close to collapse.

“And last but not least, the proposal suited Angela Merkel. Despite the fact that she had to drop her preferred candidate, Weber, the new candidate was also a German so she could use this in an attempt to sell the compromise to the general public back home as a “win” for Germany.”The outcome of the marathon political horse-trading session was acclaimed in the French press as a major international triumph for Macron: “Game, set and match” as the headline in the French daily Libération put it.

According to Politico, the French President had much to smile about because the deal resulted in three Francophones in the top jobs, including not only a French president of the European Central Bank but also a European Commission president who owed her job to Macron and was largely sympathetic to his ideas about EU reform.

The Economist hailed the deal as “a victory for France” and reported that Macron was having “a good summer”.

The Independent reported that Macron had emerged “victorious” and described him as “Europe’s new king- or queen-maker”.

In a similar vein, the Financial Times described Macron as the “winner of the week” after the acceptance of the deal which bore “a clear French imprimatur”. Macron had succeeded in installing Mr Michel, one of his closest allies, in the European Council and he could count on Lagarde at the ECB to do whatever it took to defend the Eurozone. “No wonder he was exultant”, the FT concluded.

Macron’s success in brokering a deal for a line-up with “a distinctly French flavor” was seen by Reuters as a sign that he was likely to wield greater influence at EU level in coming years.

According to an EU diplomat cited by Reuters: “He was the force behind getting Von der Leyen into the Commission, his liberal ally Michel got the Council and he lined up Lagarde nicely for the ECB, while Borrell and von der Leyen also speak fluent French.”

“When Macron put his proposal on the table on the third day of tortuous political arm-wrestling it broke the deadlock and permitted the relatively amicable closure of an intense and fractious summit marked by discordant negotiations that at times looked close to collapse.”Reuters concluded that Macron’s “coup” at the EU Summit in July 2019 meant that he had staked his claim to the mantle of de facto EU leader as Angela Merkel’s political career was entering its twilight phase.

But Macron’s torpedoing of the EPP candidate Weber came back to haunt him later in the year when he got a slap in the face from the EPP bloc which successfully mobilised a parliamentary majority in October 2019 to reject Sylvie Goulard’s nomination as EU Commissioner.

Thierry Breton, the next candidate proposed by Macron, had better luck and managed to scrape through the parliamentary hearing despite receiving an intense grilling from Social Democratic and Green MEPs.

Given that Macron knew that the EPP was itching to pay him back for nobbling Weber, Breton’s success raises the following $100 billion question:

Is it possible that Breton was really Macron’s preferred choice as Commissioner?

In other words, could it be that Goulard was only a pawn in Macron’s game, an unsuspecting sacrificial lamb to be thrown to the EPP wolves in the hope that their thirst for vengeance would be satisfied after they had managed to savage her to (political) death?

“A skilled operator like Macron would surely have understood that it was not politically feasible for the EPP interest to repeatedly reject any and every candidate which he proposed as this would give the impression that the group was driven solely by vindictive bloody-mindedness.”It’s worth recalling that before Goulard’s rejection, an accidentally leaked tweet from the EPP — which was quickly deleted — revealed the intensity of the group’s ill-will towards Macron’s nominee: “Guys we are going to kill her in the vote later but do not say.”

A skilled operator like Macron would surely have understood that it was not politically feasible for the EPP interest to repeatedly reject any and every candidate which he proposed as this would give the impression that the group was driven solely by vindictive bloody-mindedness.

Even to the most casual observer, it was a no-brainer that the EPP would be more likely to let a second nominee get through after having had the opportunity to exact revenge on the first one.

There’s no way of knowing for sure whether or not the hypothesis is correct but if it is, then it would mean that Breton really was Macron’s number one choice for the EU Commissioner job.

“Macron must have known that Goulard’s indictment was in the pipeline, so why would he have nominated such a “ticking time-bomb” for a key EU position unless he was certain that she would never make it through the parliamentary gauntlet?”That wouldn’t be surprising. As a matter of fact, Goulard seems to have been nothing more than a token “gender balance” candidate put forward by Macron in order to keep on the right side of von der Leyen. Macron himself claimed to have expressed doubts to von der Leyen about Goulard’s chances of getting through the nomination process.

Indeed, shortly after Breton’s nomination had been confirmed at the end of November 2019, the French media reported that Goulard, had been formally indicted by the Court of Paris for embezzlement of funds in the employment of EU parliamentary assistants.

Macron must have known that Goulard’s indictment was in the pipeline, so why would he have nominated such a “ticking time-bomb” for a key EU position unless he was certain that she would never make it through the parliamentary gauntlet?

If Goulard’s nomination had been accepted by the EU Parliament, the fallout from her subsequent indictment in Paris could have been fatal to Macron. How likely is it that a professional Machiavellian like Macron would have taken such a risk?

“It’s a fair bet that Macron would prefer to have his old Rothschild buddy Thierry — rather than Sylvie — as his dining partner on those taxpayer-funded outings to expensive restaurants in Brussels.”The closer one looks at Goulard’s nomination, the more it seems that she was nothing more than a sacrificial pawn in Macron’s “Game of Thrones” in Brussels.

And last but not least, let’s not forget that it was Breton — not Goulard — who featured on the guest list for the state banquet hosted at the White House by Trump in Macron’s honour in April 2018.

It’s a fair bet that Macron would prefer to have his old Rothschild buddy Thierry — rather than Sylvie — as his dining partner on those taxpayer-funded outings to expensive restaurants in Brussels.

And as that exclusive nosh-up in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has come up once again, it’s time to turn our attention to another of the star guests at the “$132 billion dinner”, the LVMH Group CEO, Bernard Arnault, reportedly the richest man in Europe and third richest in the world.

Arnault's 100 billion

We previously looked at the connections, both professional and personal, between Thierry Breton and France’s Lord of Luxury. In the next part of the series, we will examine the links between the LVMH CEO and Breton’s current political patron, Emmanuel Macron.

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