Michel Barnier’s desperate plea to US before Brexit: ‘EU needs you more than ever!’ | World | NewsFebruary 17, 2021
Michael Barnier discusses plans for future in French politics
In December, Brussels did not waste any time and announced a new plan to improve relations with the US ahead of President Joe Biden‘s inauguration. The European Commission defined four major policy areas to focus on: health response, climate change, trade and tech, and security. Despite Brussels’ goodwill, the two sides already appear to be at loggerheads.
In January, Mr Biden signed an executive order to tighten “Buy American” requirements in federal government procurement – a first step to fulfilling his campaign promise to bolster the country’s manufacturing sector but a huge blow to the economy of the 27 EU member states.
And despite pressure from Brussels to repeal the Jones Act to allow greater competition in the shipping sector, administration officials announced Mr Biden will also soon reiterate his support for the law, which requires goods shipped within the US to be transported on American vessels.
They say this could help “invest in building offshore renewable energy and put Americans to work doing it”.
Economic tensions between the US and EU were already quite high.
The Trump administration placed billions in tariffs on European goods, and both the US and EU recently concluded a rancorous trade dispute over subsidies to their major aviation companies.
Brussels has been trying in vain to strengthen transatlantic relations for almost a decade – and even hoped the US could help stop Britain leaving the EU.
Michel Barnier’s desperate plea to US before Brexit: ‘EU needs you more than ever!’
US President Joe Biden’s inauguration
In November, 2015, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who at the time was a Special Advisor to the President of the European Commission on European Defence and Security Policy, travelled all the way to Washington to make a plea to the US government.
A few days before, a series of coordinated Islamist terrorist attacks had taken place in Paris, killing at least 130 people.
Mr Barnier said: “Europe needs you now more than ever.
“Europe is facing both external and internal threats that we can most effectively tackle together.
“There are those threats we very easily perceive as common ones.
“Serious threats that jeopardise our way of life and the freedoms currently enjoyed in Europe and North America.”
Stressing for cooperation, the French politician mentioned Russia tearing up the rules of international relations and the “the malign growth of ISIS threatening vast territories”.
Mr Barnier then emphasised there were risks and threats that, even though might have been less salient in Washington, were nevertheless very real, such as the refugee crisis and Brexit.
Urging the US to take in more refugees and increasing humanitarian funding, Mr Barnier said: “The refugee crisis is both a humanitarian disaster and a great challenge to Europe’s unity and resilience.”
The second threat, Mr Barnier noted, was the risk of political disintegration of the European project.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
He explained: “The UK has announced a referendum on its future relationship with the EU.
“Populist sentiment is on the rise in Europe.
“The problems we face are testing for the unity of our common project and societies.
“When our borders are perceived as open and our security as fragile, it is the breeding ground for populism and in-fighting.”
He concluded: “I fear difficult times ahead for the EU. This project of peace, prosperity and integration could very easily become one of dislocation and fragmentation.
“And if the EU fragments, that will have profound consequences for the Western liberal order, for our partnership and for the capacity of Europeans to contribute to transatlantic prosperity and security.
“These days are indeed moments of truth for European leaders, who must find the political and collective courage to face up to these urgent challenges and relaunch the EU project on sounder footing. That is the sense of President Juncker’s work and commitment, including on security and defense.”
The US administration seemed to take in Mr Barnier’s advice, as it did end up meddling with the Brexit referendum the following year.
Two months before the plebiscite, former US President Barack Obama visited London and warned Britain that a trade deal with the US would not be a priority if British voters chose to leave the EU.
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Former US President Barack Obama and former Prime Minister David Cameron
Mr Obama said: “The UK is going to be in the back of the queue.”
At the time, his remarks were furiously rejected by Brexiteers, who suspected David Cameron’s government to be the mastermind behind them.
They pointed to the President’s choice of the word “queue”, rather than the American usage of “line”, as evidence of British involvement in scripting Mr Obama’s comment.
One of the people who reacted with fury to the comments was Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who at the time was still Mayor of London and leading the Vote Leave campaign.
Mr Johnson claimed it was “ridiculous” for Britain to be bullied like that.
According to Vote Leave insider Lord David Owen, though, that moment was crucial to winning the referendum.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, the former Foreign Secretary and SDP co-founder said: “I was quite convinced we would win the referendum after Barack Obama’s visit.
“That was the only moment when the opinion polls really changed.
“There was an argument whether there was a three or five percent shift in favour of coming out.
Lord David Owen
French President Emmanuel Macron
“From that moment on we were even-steven.”
Lord Owen noted: “Boris made it.
“If I had been the leader of the campaign I would have made a speech against other leaders interfering with our domestic policies.
“Instead, he was furious. Boris scoffed at Obama. And that worked.”
Mr Barnier has played an important role in shaping the future relationship between the EU and Britain.
A mere 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 European Union.
Commenting on the appointment, former President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job.”
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 on Tuesday he was setting up a political faction under the name “Patriot and European”.
A possible bid by Mr Barnier Is being closely watched by French President Emmanuel Macron’s camp, as he would eat at the pro-European, centre-right electorate.