Brexit negotiator Barnier announces bid for French presidency

EU negotiator pledges to respect the French and make France respected

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier leaves after a meeting of the French right-wing party Les Republicains, in preparation for the 2022 presidential election. AFP
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Michel Barnier, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator, will seek to represent the French Republicans in the country’s coming presidential election.

“I’ve decided to run and to be the president of a France that is reconciled with itself, to respect the French and to make France respected,” Mr Barnier, 70, told broadcaster TF1 late on Thursday.

“I’ve learnt something important for our country, and that’s when you know how to respect people and bring them together around the same table, then we succeed.”

The former foreign affairs and agriculture minister is not going to have an easy time.

Despite featuring heavily in international coverage for his role in the Brexit talks, Mr Barnier remains unknown to many in France.

He faces a crowded field that includes member of parliament Eric Ciotti, and Valerie Pecresse, who runs the Paris region.

Meanwhile, the head of the working-class Hauts-de-France region, Xavier Bertrand, is trying to clinch support without taking part in a primary by raising his profile.

Republican leaders have not confirmed that they will hold a primary. They may just pick the candidate who leads a poll they ordered to test the appeal of different contenders.

They plan to make a decision in November.

If Mr Bertrand represents the conservative party in the first round of the election on April 10, 2022, he would win 16 per cent of the vote, said a Harris interactive poll published this week.

Ms Pecresse would secure 13 per cent, behind Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen who would both take about 25 per cent. Mr Barnier was not tested by the pollster.

In the second round on April 24, Mr Macron would win over Ms Le Pen with 55 per cent over 45 per cent, said the Harris poll.

It surveyed 1,343 adults representative of French people based on quotas for gender, age, socio-economic status, region and previous votes, online from August 20 to 23.

Mr Barnier entered politics in the seventies and was once France’s youngest MP. It was in 2016 that he became the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.

In his book, The Great Illusion, he wrote a detailed account of the highs and lows of negotiations that ended with a deal at the end of last year but failed to solve many issues, including fishing rights for European fishermen in UK waters.

Mr Barnier recalled “that extraordinary negotiation of Brexit, during which I worked on with heads of government and of state to preserve the unity of all the European countries".

Asked what differentiates him from Mr Macron, he referred to the Alps, where he was born.

“In this mountainous region, we know what a rope team is," Mr Barnier said. "I know that in a rope team everyone counts, just like I think that each citizen is important in our country.”

Updated: August 26, 2021, 11:18 PM