Barnier’s calls to limit EU powers as he demanded French ‘sovereignty’ not be questioned

Brexit: Michel Barnier 'played a blinder' claims Mummery

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Mr Barnier has played an important role in shaping the future relationship between the EU and Britain. Only a month after the UK voted to leave the bloc, Brussels announced he would be the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, under Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union. For the 2020 trade talks, Mr Barnier was once again the main negotiator and despite months of tensions, the two sides reached an agreement on Christmas Eve.

Now, there is mounting speculation the French politician might be mulling a possible bid in next year’s presidential election, as he announced last week he was setting up a political faction under the name “Patriot and European”.

While Mr Barnier is being closely watched by French President Emmanuel Macron’s camp, as he would eat at the pro-European, centre-right electorate, one of his most controversial interviews has resurfaced.

In 2013, the French politician, who at the time was serving as the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner, came out in favour of limits being imposed on the European project, telling euractiv.fr that he understood concerns expressed by the far-right and other eurosceptics.

He said: “The country’s budget, the content and quality of reforms remain the responsibility of the government of France and the Parliament.”

He then stressed that French “sovereignty” on such areas should have never been called into question.

His comments came as the European Commission issued Paris with prescriptive recommendations on economic reforms – a move that fell foul with former French President Francois Hollande, who urged the EU not to “dictate” reforms to member states.

Mr Barnier backed claims saying Europe should have thought of rolling back policies in areas where national or regional governments were more efficient – in line with the “subsidiarity principle”.

He added: “What less can we do here in Brussels?

“Subsidiarity is very important. Many citizens are concerned about a European project that has no limits or boundaries. Some should probably be established.

“But we are not alone.”

When asked in what areas the EU should do more, he said: “I will argue for a European industrial policy.

“It is important that European leaders again find the courage and boldness we had with the ECSC [European Coal and Steel Community].

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“I will argue for a European Defence Community, which will not be the same that we had imagined in 1954.

“These are issues on which Europeans together must do more and better.”

Despite calling to limit the European Commission’s power, two years later, Mr Barnier suggested he did not care about the outcome of referendums.

He tweeted: “Whether it’s a yes or a no, the eurozone will have to continue reforming: governance, banking resolution, taxation, eurobonds, treasury.”

At the time, the leaders from the euro area member states had just reached an agreement that paved the way to a third Greek bailout.

Former President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker put forward similar claims.

In 2005, Mr Juncker, who at the time was Luxembourg’s Minister for Finances and President of the Euro Group, was pushing for a European Constitution.

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On May 29 of that year, France held a referendum to decide whether it should ratify the proposed Constitution but, ahead of the vote, Mr Juncker admitted he would ignore the result if it did not go the way he intended.

He said: “If it’s a Yes, we will say, ‘On we go’, and if it’s a No we will say, ‘We continue.'”

Following the No votes in France and the Netherlands, Mr Juncker also claimed, in reality, voters had actually supported a deeper European integration.

His remarks were met with outrage by eurosceptics, who suggested that the EU elite was in denial over the public hostility towards the bloc.

In the end, as the European Commission President predicted, eurocrats ignored the results of such popular votes and the European constitution was subsequently rebranded as the Lisbon Treaty and passed in 2007.

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