Share article:
Share article:

Barnier the Eurosceptic

BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES
Weekly analysis and untold stories
With SAMUEL STOLTON

Other Brussels behind the scenes stories:
How the Taliban may impact Europe’s green goals
A discriminatory summer?
Why does the EU Olympic flag proposal matter?
Slovenia’s first scandal
LGBT conversion therapy still exists in Europe

Barnier the Eurosceptic

If Michel Barnier is playing to the gallery, his political strategy may very well backfire.

On Thursday, the erstwhile EU Commission official pitched himself firmly to the French right as part of his bid to take Les Républicains into next year’s Presidential elections.

Speaking at an event in Nîmes, Barnier told an audience that he would propose a referendum on a so-called ‘constitutional shield’ that, on immigration issues, would allow the French to avoid the supremacy of the European courts. Barnier said that it was a question for the French of regaining their ‘legal sovereignty’ from the EU. Some may say he is attempting to ‘cherry-pick’ France’s EU membership.


BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels. If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.


Back in Brussels, many were dismayed by the irony of a former high-profile EU representative, who in one fell swoop, appeared to renounce that indefatigable European zeal that has come to define Commission rhetoric. And Barnier did so before the nameplate had most probably been changed on his Berlaymont office.

It’s an interesting strategy that exposes the reality of Barnier’s political challenge in France: relinquishing over a decade of professional history at the heights of European politics. With the anti-immigration stance appealing to an electorate increasingly enamoured by the hard-line rhetoric of the Le Pen model, Barnier is alienating the supporters of his personal pro-Europeanism that he has built up over a long and varied career in Brussels and Paris.

In the EU capital, in addition to a starring role in the Brexit negotiations, he has also previously been Commissioner for Regional Policy and later as Commission Chief for the Internal Market. As an MEP, he was President of the French delegation of the EPP. In French Politics, the mid-nineties saw Barnier as Minister of European Affairs.

For many, the Eurosceptic stance demonstrated by Barnier this week is a repudiation of his brand of pro-Europeanism, and one that his previous supporters in France may not be able to forgive him for. The situation that presents itself to this demographic of French voters is now that should Barnier, a former high priest of European politics, contract the Republican nomination for the French Presidency campaign, ironically he would not be the pro-European choice on the ballot paper. And what’s more, the rejection of his pro-Europeanism will not be enough to secure the support of those on the Le Pen right, who will take one look at his CV and draw their own conclusions in a fog of frenzied Euroscepticism.

Barnier’s turncoat politics will not play out well for the Presidential hopeful in what could largely be seen as his last throw of the dice for one of the most treasured prizes in European domestic politics. This comes at a time in which the upcoming departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel will leave a leadership vacuum which will need to be filled by a leader brimming with European conviction and ambition. As it stands, it now seems implausible to imagine Barnier playing such a role in the EU Council. A Eurosceptic as one of the most powerful leaders in the EU? What future for the Union, should this possibility ever turn into reality?

BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels. If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.

Latest news

New Belgian video game aims to help children who stutter
A new video game by Belgian-American start-up Say It Labs aims to teach children with a stutter various techniques to improve their speech.  ...
More than 1 in 4 Belgians use mobile phones whilst driving
A recent European study into the use of mobile phones whilst driving highlights some alarming results: 26% of Belgians read or send messages on their ...
Belgium in Brief: Memories Of Masks
Belgium's experts are concerned with the rising coronavirus figures. One possible solution could be that, once again, masks are used more widely. ...
Museum Nights Fever returns to Brussels on Saturday night
After a break last year, Museum Nights Fever 2021 is back again with free visits to 32 museums hosting performances, music and other events. The ...
More than €1.5 billion injected into SNCB
More than €1.5 billion in additional funding has been injected into the Belgian railways, Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet told the House ...
Non-vaccinated applicants no longer welcome at ZNA hospitals in Antwerp
The Antwerp hospital group ZNA is only taking on new employees who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to reporting from VRT. ...
Pharmacies prepare to administer more rapid antigen tests
From November, anyone presenting coronavirus symptoms for less than six days will be able to take a rapid antigen test in a pharmacy, announced the ...
Chocolate, Christmas, and cocaine
Do you consider yourself a news buff? Someone constantly on top of what's going on? Then maybe you have what it takes to ace The Brussels Times ...
Introduction of Covid Safe Ticket leads more in Brussels to get vaccinated
The introduction of the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) in the Brussels-Capital Region on 15 October seems to have led to a higher number of residents ...
More and more testimonies, and a second rally against sexual violence in Brussels
A second rally against sexual violence was held in the Brussels neighbourhood of Ixelles on Thursday evening, and a sister-rally was held ...
Over 1,000 Covid-19 hospitalisations for first time since early June
The number of patients hospitalised in Belgium as a result of the coronavirus has again exceeded 1,000, climbing to 1,032, according to figures ...
Experts call for more widespread use of masks as figures rise
As coronavirus figures continue to rise, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has suggested that people return to wearing masks when indoors with ...