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EU’s media reaction to Barnier’s appointment

President Juncker named former European Commissioner Michel Barnier as the European Commission’s Brexit negotiator. He will take office on 1 October 2016. Mr Juncker explained that he wanted an experienced politician for this difficult task and added that he is sure Mr Barnier will live up to the challenge and will help develop a new partnership with Britain once it leaves the EU.

Media comment on the decision and go back over Mr Barnier’s career, describing him as an experienced veteran in politics. Libération and Milano Finanza report that, for now, Mr Barnier can only prepare his team, as negotiations will begin only after Britain officially invokes Article 50. Given the apparent indecisiveness among British Government members regarding the consequences of the Brexit and their grievances, Mr Barnier still has a few months ahead of him to achieve his preparation, says Libération.

There are some positive comments about this appointment. Libération’s Quatremer comments on the decision made by “cunning” President Juncker who is letting London know that “the time of planned concessions and self-censorship is over” and negotiations will be tense. Mr Barnier is described as a “convinced European” who proved he was tenacious but also “open to compromise”. He is used to negotiating with the British and well-versed in European apparatus. According to Mr Quatremer, Mr Barnier is preparing for two successive negotiations. First, within the next two years, he will negotiate the breaking of the ties between the EU and the UK; then, the negotiation on London’s new status will begin.

L’Echo believes Europe could not ask for a better champion to defend itself against the British diplomacy during the Brexit negotiations. Kai Küstner says on MDR that Mr Barnier is a financial expert, and President Juncker calls him a “friend.” The knowledge he gained in his position as European Commissioner for Internal Market will be of help to him. Naftemporiki highlights that Mr Barnier has great experience in European affairs and very good knowledge of finances, commenting that he is a very good choice undoubtedly. Der Standard says it is not very surprising that President Juncker appointed Michel Barnier, his fellow party member of the European People’s Party, to head the EU exit negotiations with Great Britain.

Mr Barnier is a professional who has served in the European Commission and as a member of the European Parliament. He is considered to be both hardworking and modest and has great ambitions. Ziniu Radijas adds that Barnier played an important role in trying to curb the euro area debt crisis, which nearly destroyed the single currency project and helped to restore order in the banking system.

But some also note that Mr Barnier attacked the UK as Internal Market Commissioner and question this move. The Times notes that Mr Barnier repeatedly clashed with the UK during his tenure as Commissioner for Internal Market over rules on bankers’ bonuses, attempts to relocate City activities to the eurozone and a short-selling ban. Downing Street reacted to the appointment by suggesting that Mr Barnier will merely be one of several figures with whom they will deal during the Brexit negotiations.

A Daily Mail editorial criticises the announcement of Michel Barnier as Brussels’ representative in Brexit talks, describing it as “an act of petty aggression by [Jean-Claude Juncker]” and “Another betrayal by Europe’s pygmy tyrant” as the headline reads. It suggests that by appointing an “inflexible, anti-British, arch-federalist” representative, Mr Juncker is betraying EU citizens who will benefit from a prosperous and amicable post-Brexit partnership.

Beda Romano says in Il Sole-24 Ore that Mr Barnier is not appreciated by British financiers, and that the announcement of his nomination was greeted “cautiously” by the British Government. De Tijd says Mr Barnier’s appointment shows how politically sensitive and complicated the negotiations are becoming. With Mr Barnier, President Juncker puts a peculiar man at the head of his Brexit team and the French and the Germans are now represented in the Commission’s Brexit team.

Het Financieele Dagblad says the appointment has a tactical aspect as the French Government believes the more difficult it gets for the UK to leave, the harder it would be for the National Front to call for a ‘Frexit” in the elections next year. Helsingin Sanomat also notes that Mr Barnier was a suspicious choice from the British point of view, because he has previously been the Commission VP responsible for internal market and financial services, which are sacred sectors for the Brits. This was a cunning move from Mr Juncker: Britain now knows that the Commission is playing hardball.

Britain’s exit from the Union is no longer being rushed, but hopes of a favourable deal are dismissed. Others note that Mr Barnier is not the only negotiator speaking on behalf of the EU. The WSJ says he will not be the only key figure. The European Council appointed a negotiator and the bloc’s leaders will also take part in the talks. De Tijd says the fact the European Council already appointed Didier Seeuws shows how complex the EU is.




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