Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, was only supposed to say a few words about the vote in the British House of Commons on Tuesday morning. But then he got to talking about his vision for Europe.
Der Spiegel says that the Brexit negotiator is indicating that he does not see his career ending once the British finally withdraw from the EU.
Barnier is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP) and nothing would run more contrary to his values than to publicly stab the party’s top candidate, Manfred Weber, in the back. But Barnier’s ambitions are one of the worst kept secrets in Brussels. And if Weber isn’t able to find a parliamentary majority after European elections, or if he loses the support of the member states, Barnier would hardly have to be asked twice to take his place.
EU leaders have come to appreciate the relaxed manner in which Barnier has conducted the Brexit negotiations. Barnier has visited many EU countries multiple times, his most recent trip taking him to Poland and Sweden. When he was recently in Berlin, he briefly visited Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the general secretary of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union. She can’t help him much when it comes to his Brexit talks with the British government, but AKK, as she is known, is widely regarded as a likely successor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The good impression left behind by Barnier was like a treasure, the value of which remains to be seen.
Government and party leaders recognize him as one of their own, a person with whom they can work together at eye level. Unlike Weber, Barnier has experience gleaned from several government jobs. He has been a European commissioner and the French foreign minister. He even organized the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville.
One man in particular has been warming up to Barnier, a man who doesn’t think much of the concept of lead candidates anyway: French President Emmanuel Macron. According to people familiar with the matter, Macron has asked Barnier twice whether he could see himself running for office for La République En Marche, the political party founded by Macron in 2016. Barnier declined: He has been a member of France’s conservative party for decades. He’s not about to change sides.
The days in which Macron wanted nothing to do with the old man at the head of the European Commission are apparently over. Politically, there is little separating the two. Barnier, for instance, has long advocated a European industrial policy — an issue that is also close to Macron’s heart.
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