President Barnier! Brexit chief issues warning to Macron and vows to ‘take back my place’
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The Brussels diplomat will step down as the EU’s Brexit chief at the end of the month after four-and-a-half years working on Britain’s divorce from the bloc. In an interview with a group of European publications, the Frenchman said he wanted to reconnect with citizens in his home country after having spent in the Belgian capital. While not announcing a direct challenge to Mr Macron’s presidency, Mr Barnier explained he wanted to “take back my place” at the heart of the centre-right Les Republicains.
The party, of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, performed miserably in the 2017 election, with candidate Francois Fillon failing to make the final round of voting.
Mr Barnier insisted his natural place would be in turning around the fortunes after the Les Republicains ahead of the 2022 presidential ballot.
The Frenchman also took aim at British newspapers for painting him as a eurocrat rather than a politician.
He said: “Unlike the caricatures that certain media or certain British tabloids have made of me, I have never been a Brussels super-technocrat.
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“I remain a politician. I will take back my place in the political debate, first in the political family which has always been mine, even if I have been in a minority in that political family, notably on the European line.
“I am happy that in a few weeks I’ll go back to my country, which I miss, to meet citizens, who I miss.”
During the tense Brexit trade talks, UK negotiator Lord Frost often infuriated his EU counterpart by labelling him an “official” rather than politician.
Mr Barnier didn’t explain what role he was hoping to play when he returned to his political party of 55 years.
He has previously served as France’s agriculture fisheries minister, as well as holding the foreign affairs role.
“One way or another, I will make use of what I’ve learned and who I am. My European experience,” Mr Barnier said.
The Frenchman will undoubtedly want to capitalise on his time in Brussels to present a pro-European challenge to President Macron and eurosceptic rival Marine Le Pen, the bookmakers’ favourites to reach the second round of voting.
Mr Barnier is well regarded in France for his role in securing the Brexit divorce and future relationship deals.
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French newspaper Le Monde recently branded him “the French man with the greatest European career since Jacques Delors,” one of the EU’s founding fathers.
Mr Barnier must retire from his European Commission duties because EU regulations require eurocrats are required to retire at 66.
However, they can have their service extended by up to four years in special circumstances.
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Having turned 70 on January 9, Mr Barnier will leave office at the end of the month.
But Commission President Ursula von der Leyen could allow him to remain in place to “follow the parliamentary ratification” of the Brexit trade deal.
MEPs are expected to hold a vote on the UK-EU future relationship pact around February 23.
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