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Juncker playing 'hardball' in naming Barnier chief Brexit negotiator

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The European Commission has appointed Michel Barnier, a veteran French politician and the former commissioner in charge of internal markets, as its chief Brexit negotiator.

Barnier will lead a commission taskforce in charge of negotiations with the UK under Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, the legal basis for a member state’s exiting the EU.

Announcing Barnier’s appointment, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the Commission, said: “I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job.

“He has an extensive network of contacts in the capitals of all EU member states and in the European Parliament, which I consider a valuable asset for this function.

“I am sure 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.”

Barnier will take up his new role in October.

On the basis of the principle of ‘no negotiation without notification’, Barnier’s task will be to lay the groundwork for negotiations with the UK that can commence once it triggers the Article 50 withdrawal process, according to the commission.

Once this happens, “he will take the necessary contacts with the UK authorities and all other EU and member state interlocutors”, it said.

James Walsh, EU and international policy lead at the UK’s Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA), said Barnier’s appointment confirmed the Brexit negotiations would be challenging and “exposes the very different approaches being taken within the EU to the Brexit negotiations, with president Juncker playing hardball and chancellor Merkel signalling a more accommodating approach”.

“The whole process will be highly political,” he added.

Barnier was commissioner and then vice-president in charge of internal market and services from 2010 to 2014, when the Commission introduced single market reforms such as Solvency II and the revision of the EU Directive on Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision (IORPs).

The PLSA’s Walsh said the association would expect Barnier to carry into his new role the concern he showed for transparency and accountability in financial markets when he was a commissioner.

“As a result, we should expect him to insist on a high level of continuing UK compliance with legislation such as MIFID II, EMIR and AIFMD in return for meeting any demands from the UK,” said Walsh.

“In practice, it has always been likely the UK would comply with most of this legislation regardless of the outcome of the EU referendum.

“We don’t believe it’s in anyone’s interest to have major differences in financial regulation across what are now global markets.”

The UK’s outgoing commissioner Jonathan Hill has said the UK’s exit from the European Union would not materially change the Capital Markets Union (CMU). 

Barnier is also a former French minister and has been a member of the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative court, since 2005.

In other EU news, the Council of the EU, which represents member state governments, has adopted a revised schedule for the rotating presidency of the council as a result of the UK vote to leave the EU.

The UK was due to hold the rotating presidency in the second half of next year but relinquished this.

The Council has brought forward the order by six months in response, meaning Estonia will hold the presidency half a year earlier than originally intended.

Slovakia holds the presidency, having taken over from The Netherlands on 1 July.

Readers' comments (1)

  • First, I think Juncker - who is not exactly the world's greatest diplomat - is reacting to the appointment of Johnson as the British negotiator. In that sense, it is not Juncker but May who played hardball.

    Second, I expect the member-states and in particular Germany as well as the European parliament will be unhappy with Barnier. There is a feeling that the UK will be punished financially and economically hard enough already to discourage others. Though they are unlikely to stop his nomination (the negotiations with the UK are within the competence of the European Commission and they have the most knowledge of EU law), the member-states will undermine his power, possibly by a second-in-command who is beholden to the Council or the EU parliament.

    What remains is that Johnson and Barnier are steps on the road to an unnecessary minimal agreement between the UK and the EU.

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