In an exclusive interview for Prospect, the EU negotiation chief says there is "no way" the UK will be allowed a bespoke dealby Christine Ockrent / December 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
A long time conservative politician—first elected in 1978, he became at 27 the youngest member of the French National Assembly—Michel Barnier, 66, is an even longer-time European. He dates his passion for Europe to the picture he saw as a child of General de Gaulle and the German chancellor Adenauer clutching hands to symbolize the reconciliation between their two countries.
Well-versed in the subtleties of the European machinery—he was twice a member of the Commission—he obviously enjoys the huge challenge offered to him by Jean-Claude Juncker, its current president, and the spotlights that go with it.
A few days before the Brussels summit that was to pass formal approval of the outline divorce settlement between the UK and the EU, the move which has enabled the Brexit talks to progress to the next stage, I had, as part of a bigger piece I am doing for Prospect magazine, the rare opportunity to discuss with the chief European Commission negotiator about his job, past and future.
“The Brexit negotiation is unique and extraordinary—it is the first time an EU member state has decided to leave, and I’ll do everything for it to remain unique! The process, complex as it is, has required us to take things in the right order, accurately, in order to achieve an orderly Brexit. I’ve always tried to approach the discussions without emotion, in a rational way, sticking to facts, figures and the legal basis.”
Being French and close to President Macron, another fervent Europhile, does he understand the suspicion expressed by some Brexiters that he has made his counterparts’ lives more difficult than necessary?
“My mandate and the platform I have proposed have nothing to do with punishment. You won’t find a single word about revenge or undue hardship in my statements, or in those of the French president and other heads of state. We all regret the UK departure. But no one should be surprised that the French, German, Dutch, Italian and other leaders are anxious the European project is not harmed or weakened by the UK departure. There is no reason for our values and principles to be damaged as a result.”
What about his determination to impose the sequencing of the negotiations rather than discussing…