Brexit: A Conversation With Michel Barnier

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Michel Barnier

Chief Brexit Negotiator, European Commission


President, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order

Michel Barnier discusses the state of the Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union, what is at stake, and what needs to be achieved by the 2019 deadline.

HAASS: Well, bonjour. Good morning. Timing is a lot in life. (Laughter.) And our timing is good. (Laughter.) We feel very fortunate indeed to have—I would describe Monsieur Barnier as a youthful elder statesman. He has been a fixture in French and European politics for decades. He’s held, I don’t know, maybe a half-dozen posts in the French government, just about as many with the European Commission. And for the last two years or so he has he been entrusted with representing the European Commission in the negotiations with her majesty’s government over the process uniformly and universally known as Brexit.

What we are going to do this morning is Monsieur Barnier is going speak for a few minutes to introduce the subject from his perspective. He has a few, how do we say—(speaks with a French accent)—“PowerPoint” to share with you all. And then he and I will do a few questions and then we will open it up to you. We will finish by 9:00 this morning. So, Monsieur Barnier, again, welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you for—particularly now given how busy things are we appreciate having your perspective. And the lectern is yours.

BARNIER: So good morning to all of you, and many thanks, Richard, for inviting me. It seems you invited me indeed at the right time, huh? (Laughter.) You just forget one point which is, for me, important in my personal background. A part of political responsibilities in France or in Europe. I spent—which is quite unusual for a politician—ten years of my life to organize the Winter Olympics in my region of Savoy here, with Jean-Claude Killy, very famous three gold medalist. And in fact, organizing the winter games seems like—I mean, it demanded the means—ten years of work for sixteen days. (Laughter.) Which is kind of a school of patience. And I can tell you, it’s very useful for the Brexit negotiations. (Laughter.)

Let me begin just a few remarks on three points for our discussion. First, to be clear and frank, I deeply regret the British vote. In the current world, even more than when the U.K. joined the European Union forty-five years ago, we are stronger together. Look at the challenges we are facing—terrorism, climate change, migration, poverty, financial instability. None of these challenges—none of these challenges can be solved by an EU country acting on its own. In this context, no one has ever shown to me—no one—has ever shown to me the added value of Brexit. And the clearest example is Ireland—you know quite well, Richard—where Brexit risks causing a major setback.

Number two, we respect this vote, even if we regret it, and we are now to implement it. The United Kingdom will leave the EU in March 2019. This is their decision—their decision. Our challenge is to make sure that Brexit happens in an orderly way. We all know that the no-deal scenario would have substantial costs. And after twelve months of negotiations, we have agreed on 80 percent of the withdraw agreement. If you look at this draft treaty that my team has proposed six or seven weeks ago, we have colored in green today more or less 80 percent of the context with the Brits. That means that we agreed on many key issues of this draft treaty.

We agreed to protect the rights towards our priority of the citizens, residents, employment and social rights guaranteed by EU law of 4.5 million EU citizens in the U.K. and U.K. citizens in the EU—4.5 million people. We agreed on a financial settlement that ensures that decision taken at twenty-eight will be financed at twenty-eight. We agreed on the transition period, preserving the economic status quo for twenty-one months to prepare both sides and to negotiate the future relationship.

But, ladies and gentlemen, the most difficult issues remain open. We still need to find a solution, and a (personal ?) solution, to avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. That is a key point which remain.

Three, an orderly withdrawal would pave the way to an ambitious future relationship that we all want. In March this year, the European leaders have offered to the U.K. to work on an ambitious free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and no cutouts.

But our future relationship must cover much more than trade. With the U.K., we share a common history, common values. We share a continent. The security and the stability of the European continent require a close, close partnership with the U.K. within NATO, bilaterally between U.K. and member states, and also between the EU and the U.K.

So a few words to conclude. Unfortunately, this partnership cannot amount to membership. Membership matters. Outside the European Union, you cannot have the same rights and benefits that inside. For example, being part of a single market is reserved to those respecting its rules.

Ladies and gentlemen, the single market is dynamic ecosystem based on common standards, common rules, common norms, common supervision, common regulation, and, on the top of the list, common jurisdiction. Everybody will understand that we will protect the single market, which is based on the indivisibility of what we call the four freedoms of movement for people, goods, services, and capital.

And the second principle is autonomy of our decision-making for the twenty-seven member states. So the integrative single market is what allows our international partners, such as the United States, to access 440 million citizens and consumers and twenty-two million businesses, with only set—only one set of rules instead of twenty-eight, and, after Brexit tomorrow, twenty-seven.

So, Richard, now I look forward to our conversation. You have seen perhaps some slides on your chair—I hope so—just to illustrate the EU position in the Brexit negotiations—(inaudible). Thank you for your attention.

HAASS: Commissioner, let me—I thought I would begin with the subject that’s most on everybody’s mind and cut right to the chase. Who will win today’s game—(laughter)—France or Belgium? What do you think?

BARNIER: In any case, a European challenger. (Laughter.)

HAASS: It is an all-European final. OK, I did not get a prediction out of you. Your European hat has trumped your French hat, I will note for the record.

You said that no deal with the British would be costly. But to use an expression that we often use in our politics, people say that no deal is better than a bad deal. So what, from your point of view, would constitute a bad deal? What do you believe you need to avoid?

BARNIER: I’m sure that no deal is a worse solution for everybody—everybody. It would be a huge economic problem for the U.K., and also for the EU. So I’m working for a bad deal, huh? I’m working for a deal, huh? (Laughs.) And the deal is a deal with respect for the British side. What are the principles of the EU? And, to be clear, to be frank, the U.K. knows perfectly these rules, huh? We have built this single market for forty-five years with the U.K., huh? I can tell you, because I have been the commissioner in charge of the single market in the financial services for five years, not so—longer—I can tell you that the British government has always had a very high degree of influence in the building of this single market—not to say more.

So they knew the rules, today and for—until next March or the end of the transition, if everything goes well at the end of ’20. They are their rules. They know the rules on which we have based and founded the single market. They know the indivisibility of the four freedoms, so in any case a deal which will be a good deal.

We have to respect these rules and in the same time we have to respect and to take into account the red line—what we call the red line of the U.K., huh? That just means—(inaudible)—point. We have to find a way between the red lines of the U.K.—the U.K. doesn’t want to recognize after Brexit the rule of the Court of Justice. They don’t want to recognize the necessity of the freedom of movement of people, which is a key principle of the single market. They don’t want to pay. They don’t want to recognize the regulatory framework of the EU. They don’t want to be part of our trade policy. That are the red lines of the U.K; not our red lines, their red lines since the link to the referendum.


MR. HAASS: Presumably you have red lines as well.

MR. BARNIER: We have the fundamental principle of the EU and the way in which the EU is based. Our main asset is the single market, common market in the beginning and single market now. And once again, the U.K. knows clearly and, frankly, knows these rules. We have built these rules with the U.K. We achieved this common market with the U.K. so there is no reason—to be frank, no justification to fragilize, to unravel this EU market because the U.K. leave—no reason.

So we—if these points are clear and for us the red lines of U.K.—the current red lines are clear, and they have to respect our principles—their principles for the moment—I’m sure we can find a solution to organize this deal and the future partnership in a good spirit.

MR. HAASS: Well, you said you’re—you just said you’re sure you can find a solution. Let me—I’m not so sure, and it’s not—one could argue whether the last forty-eight hours have made it more or less difficult to find a solution because you have a negotiating partner, shall we say, that is somewhat divided in itself.

So what happens in 262 days if we can’t find an agreement? What happens if, despite your best efforts and Prime Minister May’s best efforts, we can’t someone—as we would say—square the circle, find a bridge that respects your red lines and British red lines? What then—is it like—again, I’ll use another World Cup metaphor—do we have extra time, and we continue the negotiations in a kind of open-ended way? What happens to the British-EU relationship come April if there is no agreement?

MR. BARNIER: Once again, I work for the very—the day one of this negotiation to find a deal.

MR. HAASS: I understand.

MR. BARNIER: And to organize orderly withdrawal, orderly separation with the U.K., and not disorderly.

Number two, the process is framed by the treaty, and I work under the mandate of the twenty-seven other states, taking into account positions of European Parliament—never forget that European Parliament will have the last word in this ratification process for the treaty. And I work in the framework—very rigorous framework of the Treaty of the Union, which indicates that after receiving the letter of Mrs. May in March ’17, we have two years—no more, no longer—to conclude the process of the first stage, which is a withdraw agreement.

We have, obviously, much more time to conclude the negotiation in the future relations. It is the reason why we have proposed—we have accepted this transition period after the Brexit in March for twenty-one months. But for the—with their agreement for this treaty—and this treaty is public and you can consult it, find it on the internet—for this treaty, we have two years. And we are not so far from the final agreement, 20 percent.

So I don’t want to put myself in the situation where we fail, but to be clear, we are—we are—we are prepared on the European side to any options, including the no deal.

HAASS: You mentioned Ireland, an issue I’ve had some familiarity with. And again, square—how does—where do things stand with finding a formula that respects the Good Friday Agreement, essentially has free movement between the Irish border with the United Kingdom, with Northern Ireland, at the same time that would put Brexit in place?

How does—is there—is there a way of compromising that?

BARNIER: We must find a compromise. Because to be clear, if we want an agreement to the withdrawal agreement in October or November—not a question of some weeks—we must have in the framework, in the text of this withdrawal agreement, we must have an operation solution for Ireland.

Even if after the Brexit we found, we, the Brits, in the framework of our future relationship, we found a better solution, in that case, we will substitute. But we want, we must have a disposition of the government of Dublin. I am—I am the negotiator of the twenty-seven, including the Irish government, so we have to find an appropriate solution.

The point is, in Ireland—it’s very clear if you look by one of the slide—the slide. The same Ireland, we have two countries, part of the U.K., Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. I don’t want to come back into the long and sometimes tragic story between these two countries. I don’t want to come back and—

HAASS: Thank you for that. (Laughter.)

BARNIER: No, no, no. I don’t want to come back on the last crisis twenty years ago and earlier. But as you mentioned, we have—we have to work and to respect the very important agreement, which is called the Good Friday Agreement, twenty years ago.

And following this Good Friday Agreement, there is now—there are now 140 different types of cooperation between the south and the north. I can tell you, it’s not about—the Irish question is not about goods or customs or technique or financial matters, it’s about people, about people.

I went four weeks ago or five weeks ago in Derry, in Londonderry in Northern Ireland. I met many groups of people, citizens and stakeholders. And there is a huge and very emotional sensibility on these questions.

We can—the reason why I speak about that is there is risk of setback, you know. There is a reason why I just said in my speech, my first speech, that the main risk for—the main—the key proof that Brexit has not added value is Ireland. So we have to find a solution to avoid any kind of border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. But, in the same time, because it’s part of island, part of the U.K. will leave the union, will leave the single market, will leave this customs union, we have to implement controls.

I don’t want to be too technocratic. I’m not a super technocratic person, I’m a politician, but sometimes techniques is useful and the legal base very key. If you look at just this slide, we have just for you to understand what means the single market. The totality of the controls we implement at each external border of the EU, for each good coming inside the single market to protect the food safety, to protect the citizens and the consumers, and to protect the businesses that are totally—(inaudible)—control we must implement everywhere at each external border of the EU.

So we have to find a way to implement these controls for any food coming from U.K. to Northern Ireland. I’m not speaking of border. I’m speaking of controls—technical control. But I hope to find a solution, to find a compromise, is to succeed to de-dramatize these controls. We are speaking of very technical and practical controls for phytosanitary reasons, for veterinary reasons, for custom checks. So I’m—and many of these control can be implemented elsewhere on border, huh?

HAASS: So looking for controls without recreating a border?

BARNIER: Of course, that means that there is no question in my view to create what some call a new border in the middle of U.K. I respect—we want to respect the institutional order and unity of the U.K., obviously, obviously. We have we have to implement this control, because we have proposed, to be clear, to avoid a border, to include Northern Ireland in our custom territory. That is our proposal. And if the U.K. proposed something better, we are ready to—again, to study and to see about this solution. But for the moment, I—we have to—we have to work on a—(inaudible)—solution, huh?

HAASS: You know, listening to the way you describe things, I mentioned before that timing is a lot in life. In one way, your timing could not be worse, because you basically arguing for an open Europe, a free movement of these peoples, at a moment in Europe and in around the world we’re seeing a resurgence of nationalism and greater concern about immigration and migration, and greater support for hard borders. So do you feel, in a sense, that this idea of free movement of people—which is one of the basics of Europe—do you still believe this is sustainable in an age of greater nationalism, greater concern about immigration, greater concern about migration? Do you feel essentially that you are—you are going against the tide of history here?

BARNIER: No. On the contrary, speaking about Europe, the EU—the EU, which is a very sometimes unknown political and institutional body but I am ready to explain what we are. For sixty years the whole continent of Europe is organizing now its destiny by pooling—not merging, pooling—the policies, a part of our sovereignty, to be stronger, to be respected, and to create the single market. This is—I agree that what we have built for sixty years is extraordinary. You can’t find in history, in the past, and you can’t find elsewhere in the world such a political construction for twenty-eight nations who pool their destiny and their policies—a part of their policy, and a part of their sovereignty to be—to be stronger together.

And you are not to confuse what means uniformity and unity, huh? We don’t want to build a uniform Europe. We are—we are not—and we are not a single state. We are not building a federal state. There is no single European people. There is twenty-five and twenty-four different peoples and nations. And we have to work with twenty-four different languages. The reason why—the reason why Europe is sometimes a complex institution. But the key of this foundation, the key of this construction, is what we call the single market. And the single market is based on foundations that are the four freedoms of movement—people, goods, services, and capital. People, goods, services, and capital. It’s not a question about—it’s not a point about migration, huh? The European citizens coming from France to Belgium, huh, even these affluent, huh? (Laughter.) Or the Belgian coming to France, even this afternoon, are not migrants. They are European citizens. That is the point.

If you speak about the migration coming from outside of Europe, we have—and mind you, I don’t want to go into detail, but we have to face a huge and very difficult task. And the point is to know what we have to do, taking into—(inaudible)—for the refugees, so many refugees coming from the Middle East, and also towards economic migration, huh?

But I’m—we are not speaking of our border. We are speaking of our border, external border. We have chosen to have external borders, and external borders have to be real borders.

HAASS: You know, we’re meeting here today. Something else going on is the president, President Trump, is on an airplane basically at the beginning of a weeklong trip to Europe—to Brussels—to NATO, rather—to England, and then to Scotland as well, and obviously to Helsinki. His enthusiasm for the European project seems constrained.

And I’m going to push you a little bit outside your brief on Brexit. But—well, actually, I can put it this way. Why is it in the U.S. interest that you succeed at this negotiation with the British? What is the U.S. stake, that perhaps the administration doesn’t recognize as it could and might, in a successful outcome of this negotiation between the European Commission and the British government?

BARNIER: So for sixty years—sixty years, since the very beginning of the European project in 1950 with the Community of Coal and Steel—each and every American president has supported the integration of the EU, each and every president. And each and every president has been convinced that this European integration is in the interest of the United States. And it is why we are in the same alliance, NATO.

My conviction—I just want to make this point very clear—that a strong America is fully compatible with a strong and united Europe. And in this global world, if you look clearly at the situation of the current world, huh—so many threats, so many challenges—I think it’s in the interest of both sides of the Atlantic to work together and to be stable at the same time.

So, coming back to your question about Brexit, we want to put, as soon as possible, stability and visibility and legal certainty in Europe. Because of Brexit, we see that there is part of instability, and we have to rebuild the stability. It is the reason why I think the deal with the U.K.—a strong partnership between the U.K. and EU is in the interest of the United States.

HAASS: I’m going to ask one last question and then I’m going to open it up to our members.

You now have a new government in Italy, which represents something of a departure, even for Italy. How worried are you that after this negotiation you or someone else, and particularly if this one succeeds, your next assignment or someone’s next assignment is going to be to negotiate Italexit, some version of a new relationship between Italy and the EU, that what we’re seeing with Britain is not a uniquely British phenomenon, but we’re basically going—we’re entering an era of greater differentiation where every government, and particularly governments like the new Italian government, are going to want to be more outside than inside, even though they continue to get some of the benefits of being inside?

To what extent do you worry that, rather than focusing, say, on enlargement, which we thought was going to be the focus maybe ten years ago, the focus now is really going to be on differentiation?

BARNIER: I don’t want to speculate. And I’m—generally speaking, I don’t like the speculation. But I never heard from the new Italian government any ideas to launch a process of—to leave the EU and to leave the eurozone, huh? On the contrary, the new government, has clearly said they want to be part of the union, to be part of the single market, and to be part of the eurozone. So and to be clear, I met the new prime minister of Italy last week during the European Council. I know quite well the new foreign minister of Italy. And clearly support the line of negotiation with twenty-six other member states. There is no question about this point. No question.

More broader, I think that, once again though I regret from this vote of the U.K., we respect it and we implemented it. But it’s day after day more clear not only in the U.K. side for the U.K. citizens but also from the European side, in each of our country, what it means to be in the EU and what it means to be out of the EU. And I can tell you that it will be clear—crystal clear at the end of this negotiation that the best situation and the best relation with the EU will remain to be member of the EU.

HAASS: OK. What we’re going to do now is—now the difficult questions come. So we’re going to ask our members to raise—let me know if you want to go. Remember, this is on the record. And so if you raise your hand, will do my best. Sure. Just introduce yourself, keep—the shorter the questions are, the more we can get.

Q: Ashley Lenihan, London School of Economics.

I can’t ask you to speculate, but given that we’re awaiting the white paper to come out on Thursday and we’ve had the Chequers summit Friday, is there anything that you hope to see in that white paper, given the agreement outlines that came out on Friday, specifically in regard to Northern Ireland? And whether or not you think that that gets us any closer to a hopeful solution to get to that 20 percent solved.

BARNIER: OK. But that—starting for—and let me say a few words about the current debate in U.K. about what is expected next Thursday, the white paper.

Number one, I welcome that the U.K. is discussing the future relationship, taking positions, and confirm—from confirming its commitments to void our border—to voiding our border in Ireland, between Ireland and Northern Ireland. And this point is clear in the first communique after the meeting in Chequers last week. We need clarity for this negotiation to move forward, because the time is very short.

Number two, I repeat that the EU’s position is clear. It has been adopted by EU leaders in March unanimously, the twenty-seven head of states and government. And the European parliament is in the same position. It secures our single market based on our four freedom of movement for goods, people, services, and capital. And, once again, these four freedoms are indivisible. We will assess the U.K. position to be elaborated in the white paper in the coming days in the light of these principles. And I invite—to be clear, I invite businesses and stakeholders, all the stakeholders, to do the same.

And if it is well understood, these principles which are the foundation of our union, we could start a constructive discussion with the U.K. on two aspects of this negotiation: a free trade agreement and a custom union—custom arrangements. The solution will, however, have to be workable and realistic. It should not lead to red tape and costs for citizens and businesses. And for the European Union, as also for the new cooperation, on a range of other issues, including foreign policy and security. And we are looking forward to accelerated discussion on these other aspects as well.

You mentioned once again Ireland. I did my first intervention in Ireland because it is the most sensitive case. I welcome the fact that Mrs. May in the paper last week confirmed her commitments already written in the letter—official letter of the prime minister in March, to agree on the backstop in the framework of this withdraw agreement. And once again, if after the Brexit we found together the framework of the new relation, a better solution, we will substitute. But in any case, we have to find a backstop to avoid our border, to implement the checks we need—technical and practical checks we need to protect the single market, and to support the Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions, what I called—what I reminded which has these 440 types of cooperation.

And I’m sure, if there is a common will—and there is common will on both sides—we can find a solution, but we have to find this operational and practical solution to avoid their border and at the same time to protect the single market.

MR. HAASS: And at the same time, what would be politically unacceptable obviously on the British side would be to maintain an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but to create a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

MR. BARNIER: Yes, I agree with you. I mean, there is no question to create a border. If you look at—we have to be precise on this point to avoiding the kind of ideology. If you look at this, once again, all the controls we need to protect single market, and all these controls are implemented today at the external border of the U.K. for us—for the single market.

Many of these—to be clear, many of these controls are already implemented in Northern Ireland.

MR. HAASS: I understand.

MR. BARNIER: Oh, you know that?

MR. HAASS: Yeah.

MR. BARNIER: Many of these controls—for instance, for (veterinary ?) reasons, for the phytosanitary rules, we have already—U.K. has already accepted to implement between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.—to implement a certain number of these controls. So we are working—we want to work, no more, no less, on the same types of controls—technical controls.


Q: Thank you. Thank you very much. Paul Sheard, formerly of S&P Global.

You mentioned in your comments before, Mr. Barnier, that the European project—the EU is all about the pooling of parts of a national sovereignty. That process is very much work in progress and continuing. So what I’d like to ask you is, in this whole Brexit negotiation, and particularly when you think about the future relationship, how do those two things sort of interact and relate, and do they in your mind; that is, it would seem to me then that the future—the nature of the future of the relationship between the EU and Britain—the U.K.—depends very much also on what the future of the EU itself is. For example, some of the ideas set out in the white paper in March of last year—just for example, capital markets union—that’s a key agenda in the EU to further capital markets development.

It would seem to me that that—how you proceed with that agenda will depend very much on what the relationship between the EU twenty-seven is with the U.K., which has one of the two biggest global capital markets.

MR. BARNIER: Number one, to tell the truth—and I have to tell the truth, huh?—it cannot be business as usual after the Brexit. I recall that what we are, it is a co-system of rules, norms, standards for goods and services; an ecosystem with the same regulation for financial services, including U.K. today, huh; some supervision; the same certification for the products; and, on the top of this, same jurisdiction, the European Court of Justice. That is the foundation of the European Union: a community of law, of rights, ecosystem. This point is important.

And when you leave the system, you become a third country. So we have to build the new relationship with a third country, which is important third country, which was—which is until March a member of the united—the European Union, and with this very unusual or extraordinary challenge that—for instance, for trade, we have to work to build this partnership with U.K.; not in a process of convergence, but avoid divergence between U.K. and us. It will be the first time.

For trade, for instance, we have built more or less thirty, thirty-five trade agreements, the last one with Japan, Korea, Canada. Every time this trade agreement has been built in the process of convergence for normal standards to facilitate the trade. The case of U.K. is exactly the contrary. We are today totally integrated—same—(inaudible)—market, same norms, same standards. And they are going to diverge. They want to diverge. So it’s important for us to know what will become this divergence.

In all the fields, not only for the goods, but also for the services, and for financial services, because what is at stake, on your point, is the financial stability of the EU. I have been the commissioner for the financial services for five years. And my head of Cabinet is here in this room, Olivier Guersent, huh? He can prolong the discussion with you if you want. He’s now the director-general of the financial services—the financial services directorate in the EU, with the Commission. So what’s at stake, we cannot—we cannot take any risk for the financial stability.

It was so difficult to rebuild after the crisis of 2008-9 the financial stability in the EU, that we cannot take any risk. And the point is, between the city, London, the financial market, and I know the importance of this market, and the EU to find the right solution. And the point is, the U.K., will be out of our system of regulation and supervision. So what we are ready to propose exactly what we are doing with the States, United States, and it works perfectly well, is the process, the system of equivalences. That means that on both side we give—from the U.K. side and the European side—equivalences to some of our institution, if they are really equivalent. And that works with the U.S. And I don’t see why it can’t work with the U.K.

HAASS: Yes, sir.

Q: Morning. Kaider Gunrah (ph) from Ion Holdings.

Thank you for joining us this morning.

HAASS: Can you speak up a little bit?

Q: Yeah. Hold on. OK, better. Thank you for joining us this morning.

Your counterpart, the new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, you could describe as a very committed Brexiteer. And by his current posturing, willing to consider a no-deal scenario. What is your view on success in the ongoing negotiations and, also, on the safety of the 80 percent that’s already been agreed?

HAASS: I’m not sure what you mean by his view of success in the—I mean, are you asking for a prediction? Which is—

Q: Of a working relationship.

HAASS: OK. I think it’s interesting the second half of the question, which is your confidence that the 80 percent you say you’ve agreed on is set and will not unravel.

BARNIER: One of the founding fathers or grandfathers of the EU was Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman also, and Adenauer. But one of them, Jean Monnet, who was asked one day, so, are you optimistic or are you pessimistic? And his answer was very clear. I’m not optimistic. I’m not pessimistic. I’m determined. (Laughter.) So I’m determined to reach an agreement on the 20 percent which remains. And to be clear, sir, at the beginning of this process, less than one year, look at the newspaper at the time, huh? Look at the comment on both sides. It was clearly—it seemed at the time impossible to reach an agreement on the financial settlement.

And we—and finally we reached agreement in financial settlement. And the U.K. agreed to pay with us twenty-eight what has been decided—it’s twenty-eight for the current—(inaudible)—of the EU, huh? And we reached an agreement to secure the rights. Detailed rights of 4.4 million people, the personal rights of residents, employment, social rights for themselves, for their family, for the duration of their lives, all the rights will be required at the end of the 20 (percent). So it seems to be impossible at the beginning of the process, and we succeed.

So I think that we have to respect the other partner, and I profoundly respect Mrs. May and the government of U.K. I know it’s difficult. They have to respect us the same. And we respect their red lines, but they have to respect our principles. And I’m sure we can find a solution to agree on the 20 percent which remain, huh? It is my goal until—from now until October or November.

MR. HAASS: Do you have any indication at all that—well, let me ask the question a different way. When I was negotiating, among other places, in Northern Ireland, one of the principles was nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Is that the way you are operating? Do you believe the 80 percent is safe, or do you believe that some of it could be reopened if you need new compromises with the—to get the other 20 percent?

MR. BARNIER: No, what do—all the articles on which we agree cannot be reopened, no?

MR. HAASS: Cannot?



MR. BARNIER: And the two—we work on the same principle. Nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed, huh? (Laughter.) On both sides.

MR. HAASS: It’s good to know, you know, there’s some—sure.

Q: Thank you. Willem Buiter.

Mr. Barnier, you keep repeating the indivisibility of the four freedoms. It is my experience that the more something is repeated and asserted, the less one should take it seriously. The four—the freedom of movement, especially, started at the Treaty of Paris in ’51, just for the coal and steel sectors. Then, for workers, it was established in the Treaty of Rome in ’57.

Union citizenship was not established until ’92, right? And the current state of affairs was only legislated in the directive of 2004. Since then there has been backpedaling on this with the Posted Workers Directive. So I think the absolutism that you seem to expound doesn’t look—sound completely credible to me.

Would you like to comment on that?

MR. BARNIER: What seems to be not credible is to ask us to come back to the ’50s, huh? I know that the European project is a day-after-day constriction, a progressive constriction, progressive improvement; in particular, as far as the freedom of movement that the people are concerned, but now we have built this project, and we have built this common market, the single market, which is not only a supermarket; which is a human, social, economic, financial, cultural, common space of life for the five hundred million citizens, huh? So there is no reason for us to accept, because U.K. is leaving, to fragilize or to unravel this project. In particular, for this point, which is key for me, for the head of states, and for the European Parliament, which is the elected body for the citizens in EU.

And don’t forget, sir, that at the end of this process we have to get approval on these three key—and the others also—of the European Parliament, huh? I can tell you that these human and social dimensions of the European project is key. So is it a reason or a reason to come back into the past?

MR. HAASS: You’re not worried that the illiberalism in Poland will lead more Poles to want to leave or that some of the policies of the new Italian government will force more Italians—or persuade more Italians to leave? And again, I know you say everyone is a European citizen, but the idea that there should be totally free movement of Europeans within the EU across borders still means that there will be an uneven distribution of labor. And you really think the politics can handle that?

MR. BARNIER: No, but it’s clear that the Italians, it isn’t—the French are able to go in other European countries, to establish themselves, to work. So we cannot and we will not put and cause and risk this freedom.

We are not speaking of the people coming from the other side of the Mediterranean in Italy and the place where they have to live. It is another story, but—another point. But speaking with the European citizens, we are not speaking of migration, no?

MR. HAASS: OK. Yes, ma’am.

Q: Sylvia Hewlett.

HAASS: Wait for a microphone, please.

Q: (Comes on mic.) As of yesterday—

HAASS: And introduce yourself again.

Q: Sylvia Hewlett. Welcome.

As of yesterday, Mrs. May seems profoundly weakened. Looking forward, particularly if she does not hold together her government, does that not put the 80 percent at risk? Talk to what will unravel.

HAASS: Well, we’ve actually just had that question. And Mr. Barnier was pretty confident that it would not be at risk. So I’m going to answer—

BARNIER: But I could just say a few words about what happened last night and yesterday morning in London. To be clear, to be sincere, I don’t want to make any comment on the domestic national policy in U.K. and political situation. I never, never comment from the very beginning of this negotiation on the internal and domestic national policy and political situation in U.K. I have met many people with different views, many people. I listened to everyone and I will continue to do so. But as the EU negotiator, I will negotiate only with the British government and with a negotiator appointed by Mrs. Theresa May. So our next round of negotiations will be next Monday with a British delegation appointed by Mrs. May.

Q: Good morning. Nili Gilbert from Matarin Capital.

At the same time as you’re leading negotiations—renegotiations of trade agreements with the U.K., the EU’s other trade agreements are in flux, some of them. For example, with the U.S., as well as trade agreements between EU’s trading partners with each other. For example, U.S. and China. So the reality of trade around the world is in flux, at the same time as you’re trying to focus on this one relationship between the U.K. and the EU. Does your negotiating position change as the realities of trade around the world are changing around you? For example, might you be more interested in pushing towards a negotiated agreement with the U.K., softening your position, just because of a weakening of trade relationships with other partners, potentially?

BARNIER: No. (Laughter.) No. No. We have in any case, because U.K. will remain after Brexit a strong and important—very important partner for us, we have to organize the trade between us in the best—the best situation as possible. And taking into account their red lines, we are ready to work on an ambitious partnership, free trade agreement, no tariff, no—(inaudible)—with the U.K. And if they change the red lines, this is their choice, we’ll be immediately in a position to change our position. For instance, look at my favorite slide, this one with many colors. (Laughter.)

HAASS: It’s my favorite as well.

BARNIER: Yes, too. There is—there are no copyright. On this side, we have the different model for cooperation with third countries, and particularly, madam, on trade. On one side, I put with the flags—the national flags the different model for cooperation. And then on the other side I put the red lines of the U.K., what I mentioned in my first intervention, huh: no Court of Justice, no payment, no current trade policy, no freedom of movement. So, if you respect the British red lines, today with their current red lines they close the door, one by one, to different types of—model of cooperation. But each model is available for the U.K. Each of these models, including Norway, or even Norway-plus.

HAASS: Could you have Norway plus Canada?

BARNIER: Norway plus Turkey. Turkey, we have a Turkey custom union. We can work—and today we are working on the way of a free trade agreement—(inaudible)—Canada or could be more ambitious, Japan or Korea. But if the U.K. wants and accept to change one of several red lines, they can—(inaudible). For instance, as you know, the part of the British stakeholders on the stage of the customs union agreement—the Labour Party, the House of Commons, and many other. But we are ready to—and we are immediately ready to work on different types of cooperation. Each of these model has its own—its own balance of rights and obligations.

So—(inaudible). But at the same time, other people in the Commission, the commissioner in charge of the trade Cecilia Malmstrom, is working very hard and is a huge success to conclude new agreement in the world. For instance, she’s working with New Zealand and Australia. We just concluded a few weeks ago—a few days ago an important free trade agreement with Japan. And if I can say that on a personal basis, I will be very happy if we can begin again a discussion with the U.S. to build a transatlantic free trade agreement. I’ve been a member of the Commission as a commissioner for internal market, and I support this idea to launch the negotiation with the U.S.


BARNIER: Huh? Yes. So we is on the same line.

HAASS: So we also have red lines here at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Laughter.) And one of the very few red lines we have is we try to begin and end meeting on time. So I’m going to squeeze in one last short question. What are you doing at 2:00 this afternoon? (Laughter.)

BARNIER: At 2:00 I have a previous conference. (Laughter.) It’s just before. But it seems to be have been organized just to stop at the right time to look at the match. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Well, bonne chance. And thank you very much. (Applause.)


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