French center right want Michel Barnier for EU election
- February 20, 2020
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PARIS — The French center right wants Michel Barnier to be its main man in the European election — and be the conservative Spitzenkandidat.
“Barnier is thinking about running,” said a senior official from Les Républicains, confirming that an approach has been made by the party to the EU’s Brexit negotiator (news of an approach was first reported by Le Point). “The party has offered him to be the Spitzenkandidat for the EPP,” the official added, referring to the European People’s Party.
Barnier did not respond to a request for comment.
The Frenchman ran, unsuccessfully, in 2014 against Jean-Claude Juncker to be the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat — the party’s “lead candidate” in the European Parliament election and its potential nominee for the Commission presidency.
If he is to go one step further this time, he’ll likely need not only the support of Les Républicains but also that of President Emmanuel Macron — which could be difficult.
Barnier doesn’t look like Macron’s ideal candidate. He will be 68 when the time comes to take on the Commission top job, and he’s a representative of the “old world” that Macron has vowed to sweep away. He first became a government minister in 1993, when Macron was 15, and even though his views on Europe are well aligned with Macron’s, he does not represent the type of change the French president has in mind.
However, it is conceivable in theory that Macron could push for a Barnier presidency. The French president has stated that he doesn’t favor the Spitzenkandidat system, which he thinks robs national leaders of their treaty-enshrined responsibilities, and EU leaders said at a summit in February that they would not treat the process as “automatic” next year.
Barnier and Laurent Wauquiez, who heads Les Républicains (LR), also seem a strange pair. Whereas Barnier has a firmly pro-European stance, Wauquiez has moved the party of Nicolas Sarkozy further to the right on many issues, including on Europe. In a June interview with Les Echos, Wauquiez said he stood between “two equidistant dangers” — the isolationism of far-right leader Marine Le Pen and the utopianism of Macron. In a 2014 book titled “Europe: Everything must change,” Wauquiez suggested the EU go back to its six original founding members.
A September poll indicates that LR is falling short of both its main domestic rivals, with 15 percent support (down from 20 percent in the 2017 presidential election and 28 percent in the 2009 European ballot).
Macron’s La République En Marche has yet to reveal who its top European candidate will be.
Barnier’s mandate as EU Brexit negotiator ends with that of the rest of the Juncker Commission in November 2019 (although the Commission refused a POLITICO freedom of information request asking for a copy of the chief negotiator’s contract).
That leaves a question: What will Barnier do between the U.K.’s official EU exit date of March 29, 2019 and the end of the mandate in November? A Commission spokesperson said that negotiations with the U.K. will continue after that date, meaning the Brexit negotiator will continue to have a role beyond the signing of the Withdrawal Agreement.