'A Farage in every country': Barnier warns of existential threat to EU
The European Union’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has called on pro-EU forces to defend the fragile union from populist forces, because he said there was now “a Farage in every country”.
In a speech at the conference of the powerful centre-right European People’s party, Barnier did not go into details of the deadlocked Brexit negotiations, but warned the EU project was “under threat”.
“We will have to fight against those who want to demolish Europe with their fear, their populist deceit,” he told more than 700 EPP delegates in Helsinki, before naming the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.
In a wide-ranging speech that moved from European defence to electric vehicles, he mentioned Brexit only to promise to “fulfill my Brexit mission to the end” and make a brief opening joke that his speech would be short because “the clock is ticking”.
Barnier was speaking as Brexit talks were in stalemate over the issue of the Irish backstop – an insurance plan to avoid creating a hard border on the island of Ireland. A crucial cabinet meeting to agree the UK’s Brexit negotiating position was delayed from Thursday to the weekend or early next week amid a row over whether senior ministers should be given the government’s full legal advice on the backstop.
Barnier, a former French foreign minister with a long career in centreright politics, also issued veiled criticism of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who is seeking to champion himself as a defender of Europe’s liberal and multilateral values, against populists on the far-right and far-left.
“We must also respond to those who think that defending Europe belongs to one single party,” Barnier said, without mentioning Macron by name. “More than ever before, Europe needs the EPP’s founding vision. We are patriots and Europeans.”
Touching on the threat of climate change and the need to “rid our cities of smog and particles”, Barnier revealed that his first granddaughter will be born in a few weeks. “In 2050 when our kids are 32, what will our environment look like, if we continue to use the resources of three planets per year,” he said.
He also called for European action to invest in new space technology and artificial intelligence, while revealing anxiety about Europe losing out to China or big tech companies. “The four GAFAs are bigger than Germany [’s economy],” he said using the Frenchinspired acronym to refer to Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon.
EPP delegates are voting to choose its candidate to become the next European commission president when JeanClaude Juncker stands down in 2019.
Michel Barnier warned the European Union was under threat ‘from those who want to demolish Europe with their fear, their populist deceit’.