EU and UK unite to slam Barnier – POLITICO


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Friends, colleagues and enemies of Michel Barnier have all asked the same question about the former EU chief Brexit negotiator: has he lost the spirit of selection?

Barnier, the veteran French statesman who has been widely acclaimed for preserving the unity of the EU27 throughout the controversial Brexit process, is now a candidate for the presidency of France by Les Républicains, his conservative party center-right. And on Thursday, at a festive event, Barnier sparked a firestorm by declaring that France’s “legal sovereignty” was “threatened” by the EU and calling for “a referendum on the immigration question. “.

Barnier previewed his turn to the right on migration policy last July, but his claim that France’s sovereignty would be hampered by the EU Court of Justice was remarkably shocking, not least because it echoed an argument central advanced by Brexiteers in pushing for the UK. to leave the EU.

Stunned reactions quickly began to pour in, especially from France, Brussels and the newly sovereign and global Britain.

“Did he spend too much time with Boris Johnson? Nathalie Loiseau, French Member of the European Parliament and member of President Emmanuel Macron’s Renew Europe party, asked on twitter. Barnier “suggests damaging the law, but just a little bit?” Loiseau’s lament continued. “It doesn’t sound like him. “

In an interview with the Telegraph, Nigel Farage, the Brexit champion and former British member of the European Parliament, called Barnier “the greatest hypocrite ever born”. Hypocrisy, of course, is a matter of expertise for Farage, who has spent years railing against the bloc while earning an EU salary and even after Brexit will receive an EU pension ( funded in part by the UK) for the rest of his life.

Farage, however, was hardly alone. “It’s ironic in the extreme,” Simon Clark, a Conservative MP, tweeted. “Barnier preaching the merits of national sovereignty to curb the overpowered EU and the European Court of Human Rights.”

Another Tory MP, Michael Manufacturer, was also outraged and suggested Barnier advocated for Frexit – France’s own departure from the EU.

“It’s breathtaking! The hypocrisy! Manufacturer tweeted. “The same Michel Barnier who, during the #Brexit negotiations, tried to demean the # UK for demanding control of our courts and our borders. Now he wants the same for France. #Frexit? ”

Jörg Meuthen, the leader of the far-right populist Alternative for Germany party in the European Parliament, intervened with his own troll joke. Meuthen suggested that Barnier “should join the right wing Identity and Democracy [faction] because it’s something the band has been preaching for a long time.

Picking up Loiseau’s suggestion that Barnier had discovered his home Brexiteer, Meuthen added: “Most likely, excessive contact with the British people has turned a staunch former European into a reasonable person who respects member states.

The countryside needs a boost

Barnier’s unexpected and much-noticed remarks have some narrow logic in the context of France’s presidential primary campaign, in which Barnier is locked in a bitter battle between five Tory candidates, each of whom attempt to distinguish themselves in the hope of winning the chance to stand against Macron and the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

According to recent polls, Barnier, despite his notoriety of Brexit, is at the back of the pack, behind Xavier Bertrand, former national minister, and Valérie Pécresse, the current president of the Île-de-France region.

But even some French political insiders who fully understand the dynamics of the presidential race said they were stunned by Barnier’s comments and his attempt to veer to the right.

Many French MEPs and others regretted that a man of Barnier’s “caliber” had lost touch with reality and seemed to have acted out of pure political opportunism.

A centrist MEP said her eyes were opened when she saw Barnier’s comments posted on Twitter. “I suddenly remembered the serious, pragmatic and moderate man he was when he was financial services commissioner,” said the MEP.

Another French MEP, who declined to be named, said Barnier’s comments were “proof of the toxic nature of the primaries. There are several candidates who basically believe in the same things … but are forced to stand out. It ends in a sausage fair.

A European Commission official close to Barnier said the tweet was “rather simplistic”. The official noted that Barnier made similar – and equally controversial – comments about cutting immigration in July, and said the new statements were just a repeat of the same thing.

“Of course he mentions the migration issue and the possibility of violating the rules on family reunification,” said the head of the Commission. “He has already said it in a column published in Le Figaro at the end of July.”

But Barnier’s remarks on Thursday actually went much further in appearing to point to the EU Court of Justice as a danger to national sovereignty.

At the party event, Barnier said: “We cannot do all of this without having regained our legal sovereignty, being permanently threatened by a judgment or conviction at the level of the European Court of Justice or of the Convention. European human rights law, or by interpretation by our own judicial institutions.

“And this is the reason why … we have chosen to say that we will propose during the first round of the legislative elections the modalities of a referendum which will be organized in September next year, with two objectives: that of a parliamentary control over the quotas of immigrants each year and finally that of recovering through a constitutional shield our freedom of maneuver and interpretation on matters related to immigration.

The mention of a referendum alone could have been enough to send pro-EU opponents of Brexit into whirlpools of fury and dismay.

But Republican officials were so proud and in awe of the speech that they tweeted much of Barnier’s remarks verbatim, only to delete tweet a.s.a.p.

Barnier himself then tweeted suggesting the whole affair was overblown. “Let’s keep calm” he urged.


For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLITICS Poll polls.

Brussels (sort of) reacts

In Brussels, the dismay was palpable and it was clear that the once revered chief negotiator had put his reputation and heritage at risk.

At the Commission’s regular press conference at noon, chief spokesperson Eric Mamer, who is French, cited two long-standing policies of the spokesperson’s service: not commenting on comments or intervening in them. national election campaigns.

“As you know, we never comment on comments from individuals, especially in the context of a national political debate,” Mamer said.

And yet Barnier’s remarks clearly amounted to such a dagger in the EU’s blue and yellow heart that Mamer couldn’t help but add his two euro cents on the role of the CJEU and the legal authority of the EU in the field of asylum and migration.

“Our position on the rule of EU law is extremely well known and applies to all areas where there is EU law,” he said. “And the treaties are extremely clear: the management of asylum and migration is a competence shared between the European Union and the Member States, over which the European Court of Justice has jurisdiction. Common European solutions are needed and this is what the Commission has proposed in the new pact on migration and asylum.

Continuing his long non-comment, Mamer said: “The Commission does not set quotas on migration, as this remains within the competence of the Member States. As for the European Court of Human Rights, it is at the heart of the foundation of post-war Europe and is the guarantor of fundamental rights throughout our continent. The European Court of Human Rights guides the principles and values ​​on which the European Union is founded. All Member States are parties to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the European Union has undertaken to respect the ECHR as provided for in Article 6 of the Treaties. So I think that defines our position extremely clearly. “

While the Commission clearly did not have much to say on the matter, in other institutions there was no hiding the indignation at what many considered to be a betrayal on the part of the man who spent years berating the British for wanting to have their cake and eat it too, repeatedly warning that there can be no selection of the benefits and privileges of EU membership while ignoring member countries’ obligations and by insisting again and again on the inviolable rights of the European Union under its treaties.

From the European Parliament, Iratxe García, Spanish MEP and leader of the socialist bloc, tweeted that “eminent French people” had “proposed to establish the primacy of European law to build a project for peace in Europe, based on trust and solidarity. She added: ‘It’s a shame Barnier doesn’t believe in it anymore.’

An EU diplomat said it was obvious Barnier was trying to call attention to a presidential campaign with seemingly little energy or momentum, and perhaps even less chance of success.

“The guy doesn’t matter in France,” the diplomat said. “It’s a joke. He needs to position himself somehow and he thought that would help him. It won’t do him any good.

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