EU’s Brexit Negotiator Barnier Warns Macron France Could Leave EU Next

French president Emmanuel Macron (L) poses with European Commission Chief Negociator Michel Barnier prior to their meeting at the Elysee palace in Paris, on January 31, 2020, a few hours before Britain officially leaves the European Union. - Britain on January 31, 2020 will end almost half a century of …
LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

France could be next to leave the European Union if President Macron fails to learn the lessons of Brexit in areas such as migration, says EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

The bloc’s former chief Brexit negotiator warned at a conference in France on Friday that the French population is turning against Brussels amid growing “social unrest” in the country.

“We could draw some lessons from Brexit for ourselves. It’s now too late for the UK but not for us,” the pro-EU politician said, per The Telegraph.

“Let us ask ourselves: why this figure of 52 per cent [in favour of leaving the European Union] in the [Brexit] referendum? 52 per cent of citizens voted against Brussels, against the EU, so much so that they actually ended up leaving the union,” he added.

Barnier, who has recently launched a political faction, signalling a possible presidential bid in the 2022 elections, admitted that the EU’s open-door migration policies could be a main motivating factor for a so-called Frexit movement.

“We can find, not just in the UK, but here in France, in the northern and eastern regions… citizens who want to leave the EU,” he said.

“They say the EU did not respond to legitimate desires of citizens, there is social unrest or anger, one might say, because there’s no protection of external borders, some people say, immigration flows are impacting us… and Europe is also often criticised for its red tape and complexity,” Barnier explained.

His assessment was rejected by France’s Europe Minister, Clément Beaune, who pointed to the EU’s hardline negotiation stance with Britain as a signal of the bloc’s strength.

“Back in 2016 people thought that this was the beginning of the end for Europe, but we have been able to show that we can be agile, that we can react, that we can be consistent in defending our interests in a firm way to defend the greatest European assets – the Single Market and our political unity,” Beaune said.

“These are lessons that we must all keep in mind as Europe is facing more difficulties,” he added.

Barnier’s comments come amid a surge in popularity for the right-wing populist challenger to President Macron, National Rally (RN) leader Marine Le Pen, who has long held eurosceptic positions.

As of late, Le Pen has tempered her stance, now calling for a “Europe of Nations” which would see less influence on individual member-states from eurocrats in Brussels rather than France leaving the bloc altogether.

Le Pen and Macron are currently neck-and-neck in polls for the first round of voting in the French presidential election, with Le Pen actually leading against the French president slightly. Macron still holds an edge in the second round run-off, leading the polls by a margin of 56 per cent to 44 per cent.

The margin in the second round is far closer than in 2016, when Macron defeated Le Pen by 66.1 per cent to 34.6.

Seizing upon the failures of the EU and the Macron government to tackle mass migration to the country, Le Pen has said that for her first act as president she would introduce a national referendum on migration.

Brussels has also come under increasing scrutiny for its failures in its coronavirus vaccination rollout, which has far lagged behind Brexit Britain, with one German newspaper declaring that the disparity between the EU and the UK has been “the best advertisement for Brexit.”

Following the imposition of a third national lockdown in France earlier this month, Le Pen said that Macron had met his “Waterloo” moment — a reference to the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte by the British — as a result of vaccination delays.

She said that the French people were “suffering the consequences of these delays, his pride and his inconsistent decision-making, with a heavy price on their daily lives”.

“The measures announced by Macron are mainly the consequence of a vaccination Waterloo,” Le Pen pronounced.

The French last had the opportunity to vote on the European Union in 2005, with 55 per cent of voters rejecting politicians’ plans for a European Constitution in a national refrendum.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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