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5 things to know about Michel Barnier

by Jack Schickler | 28.07.2016

The European Commission’s Jean-Claude Juncker has picked Michel Barnier – once Juncker’s rival for the Commission presidency – as frontman in forthcoming UK exit talks. His nomination sparked tabloid fury – with the Daily Mail slamming the appointment of “inflexible” Barnier as “an act of petty aggression” against the UK. It is anything but. Here are five things to know about the Commission’s new Brexit Tsar.

1.Politician not technocrat

Barnier is not a detail man. During his previous stint in Brussels, the Telegraph reported one official saying the commissioner was “not famed for reading more than the first page summary of a dossier”. Whereas Jonathan Faull, Barnier’s predecessor in Juncker’s Brexit unit, was a lifelong civil servant, Barnier seems more likely to be out there cutting political deals than mastering technical details or coordinating the positions of technocrats.

2.Tough regulator who can cut fair deals

Once described as the “most dangerous man in Europe” for his financial service powers, Barnier’s anti-British reputation is not helped by his own countrymen – with then-President Nicolas Sarkozy touting his 2009 appointment as internal market commissioner a “defeat for Anglo-Saxon capitalism”. Barnier’s stated mission in that role – to ensure “every market, every player and every activity” in the financial sector would be “well regulated and effectively supervised” – certainly jars with the light-touch regulation favoured by most centre-right Brits. Yet, in the wake of the financial crisis, there was plenty of public sympathy – including in the UK – for clamping down on supposedly irresponsible City types, not to mention international pressure from the G20. And Barnier offered plenty of concessions to British interests – championing the right of London-based hedge funds to operate across the EU, for example, and giving George Osborne a carve-out from proposed new EU bank ring-fencing rules so as not to interfere with the tough approach favoured in London.

3.No stranger to our shores

As financial regulator, Barnier regularly had to deal with British institutions and the media. He speaks confident English, when he wants to (see for yourself here). In the nineties, he was France’s Europe minister when David Davis was the British one. And he will understand popular backlashes against the EU, having served as foreign minister when the French electorate rejected the proposed European constitution his government had backed.

4.A fervent federalist?

Barnier is often described as a federalist – raising fears he’d be happy to throw Britain under the bus to save the European project. As an ex-member of the European Parliament and European Commission, he is certainly a europhile. But his political background is as a Gaullist – a movement which, in the spirit of the post-war French president, is synonymous with patriotism and national sovereignty.

5.Not the only Mr Brexit in town

Juncker may have appointed a prominent figurehead to strengthen the Commission’s role in negotiations, and keep decision-making within the Commission close to the president. But Berlin, Paris, Warsaw and others will also want their say on the issue. Donald Tusk, who chairs the rival European Council, which groups national leaders, is likely to ensure that they get it.

Edited by Alan Wheatley

Tags: Categories: Post-Brexit

One Response to “5 things to know about Michel Barnier”

  • The curious thing is that Juncker does not have the authority to appoint the EU’s Chief Negotiator, as the Commission claimed that he had done in its press release: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2652_en.htm

    ‘President Juncker appoints Michel Barnier as Chief Negotiator in charge of the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 of the TEU’

    Article 50(2) TEU says that the withdrawal agreement ‘shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3)’ TFEU; and article 218(3) that the Council ‘shall adopt a decision authorising the opening of negotiations and, depending on the subject of the agreement envisaged, nominating the Union negotiator or the head of the Union’s negotiating team’, upon recommendations (only) of the Commission.

    There’s a discussion at http://bit.ly/2adp69N

    Andrew