Europe’s Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier wants to run in the French presidential elections.
The present is threatening, the future uncertain. So it is not surprising: Politically, experience, prudence and moderation count again. Otherwise Joe Biden would not have become US President and Mario Draghi would not have become Prime Minister of Italy. Is Michel Barnier’s hour now also striking? The Frenchman, who turned 70 in January and has held political mandates for 48 years, not only believes in it, he is working on it – as purposefully and firmly, but also discreetly, as he brought about the British exit from the EU.
On New Year’s Eve, the end of Brexit, he tweeted a picture that showed a couple of mountaineers on their way to a snowy summit: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!” A Twitter user smugly added: “… in the Élysée -Palace”.
Barnier, who comes from the Savoy Alps, was silent. Insiders report that he is renting an open-plan office in Paris and setting up a micro-party for campaign donations. At the end of January Barnier replied to a journalist’s question: “As long as I maintain my energy and my ability to be enthusiastic and indignant, I would like to remain useful to my country.” Useful to the country: In Paris, this cipher is synonymous with willingness to do something To run for office around which all French politics revolves: that of the head of state.
For April, Barnier is planning a memoir book on the exciting Brexit months. Just the thing to emphasize his central role, his persistent detailed work and his successful strategy. That leaves time and space for another book on questions within France: The presidential election will not take place until a year later.
The precisely staggered approach of the tall Savoyard tries to take into account the current, sometimes very contradicting tendencies of French politics. Barnier knows that he has remained almost an outsider in his own party “Les Républicains” (LR), which is completely fixated on Paris – the man from the mountains. With his moderate center-right approach, however, he could bring back one Macron voters and some Macron voters for them.
He can also look back on an impressive list of trophies in government posts, having been Minister of the Environment, Europe, Foreign Affairs and Agriculture since 1993. His subsequent mandates in Brussels as commissioner and special functionary were in Paris almost the end of his career. In addition, Barnier is anything but a rousing campaigner. He’s too stiff, too much of a gentleman for the Parisian political circus. Parisian augurs are therefore already talking about a “biden moment”, that is, the quiet victory of a serene set man over a dazzling media star. The contrast catches the eye: Here a Michel Barnier, who even came to terms with the difficult Brit: inside, there an Emmanuel Macron, who is looking for a duel with Marine Le Pen or Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Barnier himself has an unfinished business with Macron: The President never wanted to support his eligibility for the post of EU Commission President. The dry Barnier has already managed a small revenge: In an initial poll, he immediately received 27 percent of the votes, more than Macron (24 percent) or Le Pen (21 percent) achieved in the first presidential election in 2017.
Barnier still has a long way to the summit. Anyone who knows how to negotiate in Brussels does not necessarily have the charisma that decides election campaigns in Paris. But maybe the French don’t want any more flamboyant self-portrayals in the Élysée. They just want someone to lead them out of the mess.