Michel Barnier, the former financial services Commissioner with a testy relationship with the City of London, will lead the Brexit negotiations with the United Kingdom, the European Commission announced today (27 July).
Frenchman Barnier, was responsible for the wave of financial services regulation that was proposed by the Barroso Commission after the crisis.
His desire to regulate every financial sector and his push to cap bankers’ bonuses led to accusations that he was plotting to weaken London’s status as the EU’s pre-eminent financial hub.
Barnier, a right-wing Les Républicains politician and former foreign affairs minister, always denied that charge. But the appointment of a federalist with a fractious relationship with the UK will cause concern in Britain.
After the shock decision to quit the EU on 23 June, Paris and Frankfurt have moved to poach London’s crown as the bloc’s leading financial centre.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “Michel will have access to all Commission resources necessary to perform his tasks. He will report directly to me, and I will invite him to brief regularly the College to keep my team abreast of the negotiations”.
“I am sure that he will live up to this new challenge and help us to develop a new partnership with the United Kingdom after it will have left the European Union.”
Jacques Lafitte of the Avisa investment advisory group said the appointment sent a very clear message of intent to Britain.
“After all these years that the City has demonised Michel Barnier, often unjustly, the Commission could not have sent a firmer message to the English,” Lafitte told AFP.
@AlbertoNardelli Could have just as easily picked a Dutchman seen more as a bridge builder. Barnier has a difficult history with the City.
— Peter Spiegel (@SpiegelPeter) July 27, 2016
Barnier will likely face off against hardline Eurosceptic David Davis, the British Conservative MP handed the new post of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
Davis worked for Britain’s Foreign Office from 1994 to 1997, with responsibility for negotiations with Europe. His uncompromising style led to him being nicknamed the “charming bastard” by his adversaries in Brussels.
Barnier’s lead civil servant when Internal Market and services Commissioner was Jonathan Faull, who headed up the Commission’s pre-referendum Brexit taskforce.
His official title is “Chief Negotiator in charge of leading the Commission Taskforce for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union.”
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) July 27, 2016
Article 50 is the legal process to take a member state out of the EU. After the 23 June referendum resulted in a vote to quit the bloc, EU chiefs demanded Britain triggered the process “as soon as possible”.
Juncker has vowed that there will be no negotiations over the divorce terms until Britain triggers Article 50.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron resigned after the Brexit vote, leaving the decision over when to invoke Article 50 to his successor Theresa May.
May has said that “Brexit means Brexit” and added that, if the UK was ready, the clause will be activated at some point in the new year. The negotiation process can last two years once Article 50 is triggered.
A UK government spokesperson said, “We’ve said it’s important that both sides prepare for the negotiations. We look forward to working with representatives from the member states, the Council and the Commission to ensure an orderly departure of the UK from the EU.”
Candidacy for Commission presidency
Barnier stood against Juncker to be the European People’s Party candidate for Commission president. Juncker made him security advisor to the Commission after he took over the administration.
He has advocated for permanent military integration among member states since taking the post, which was interpreted by some as a call for a European army – an anathema to the Brits.
The 65-year-old former member of the European Parliament was also Commissioner for regional policy from 1999-2004, under Romano Prodi.
Barnier was succeeded as financial services Commissioner by Jonathan Hill, a Brit. Hill resigned after the Brexit vote, and was replaced by Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis.
The Commission is expected to announce what portfolio Hill’s successor Julian King will be given later.
Nick Clegg on appointment of Michel Barnier as chief EU Brexit negotiator "no friend of the City of London – alarm bells will be ringing".
— Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour) July 27, 2016
Contrary to many, I think Michel Barnier is good choice for EU Brexit chief. Known him for 15 years. Relative Anglophile. Olive branch pick
— A Evans-Pritchard (@AmbroseEP) July 27, 2016