Former scourge of the City to help open the door once Britain invokes Article 50. The European Commission has appointed Michel Barnier, the former French foreign minister and scourge of the City of London, as its chief Brexit negotiator.
The surprise decision places an architect of Europe’s post-crisis financial regulation at the helm of the technical talks for Britain to leave the EU.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said he wanted an “experienced politician for this difficult job”.
Mr Juncker added: “Michel is a skilled negotiator with rich experience in major policy areas.”
Mr Barnier has always insisted he went to great lengths to avoid alienating Britain or the City when he was the EU’s single market commissioner from 2009 to 2014. But his interventionist instincts and Gaullist style at times made him the nemesis of the UK Treasury. Britain was outvoted for the first time on a major EU financial services law in 2013, when it objected to a revamp of bank capital rules.
While the leaders of Germany, France and other EU member states are determined to maintain a grip on the course of Brexit negotiations, the commission’s technical expertise will be invaluable during the complex talks. The precise balance of responsibilities in the negotiations has yet to be set.
Mr Barnier will oversee a commission task force, rather than a department, which will advise top officials from departments most relevant to the Brexit talks. His role will be to prepare for formal exit talks under Article 50 of the EU treaty and conduct negotiations with the UK once the process is triggered. He will report directly to Mr Juncker.
His experience spans the range of European politics, from France’s minister of agriculture and then foreign affairs, to serving as a member of the European Parliament. He also served two stints as an EU commissioner, covering regional policy spending and then the single market amid a torrent of post-crisis financial regulation.