After European Union officials realized that the British people had voted to leave, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker appointed French politician Michel Barnier as chief negotiator in the Brexit talks.
Barnier embodies the archetype of a Brussels bureaucrat. His entire life has been spent inside politics and outside the private sector. In France, he was known for his desire for further political integration into the EU. In 2005, after the French voted down the EU Constitution in a referendum, former president Jacques Chirac threw him out of the cabinet.
Barnier is very unpopular in the City of London, the UK’s financial hub. After the financial crisis of 2008 hit the continent, he was vocal in his support for a centralized European Banking Authority, which was staunchly opposed by financial institutions in London City. Even German bankers criticized the proposal, as the disagreements over what it should actually do made directing it virtually impossible.
Far worse is Barnier’s tendency to deliberately provoke the British. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has demanded that the negotiating talks be held in French, even though there are no official languages in the talks, as all documents and speeches are translated regardless. (Echoing Barnier, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker claimed he prefers to express himself in French, as “English is slowly losing importance in Europe.”)
Now that the Brexit talks have begun, there are many speculations as to the direction Britain will take after leaving the union. For many Brexiteers, the prospect of freer markets was a key issue for supporting the Leave campaign. However, it turns out that the EU finds the idea of a powerful competitor to be a gruesome prospect.
In comments discovered in the transcripts of Barnier’s talks to the UK’s House of Lords select committee, the lead negotiator warned that trade negotiations could be impeded by the British government’s position that markets should be freed up after Brexit. The French “diplomat” said: “It will be said that Brussels is conducting negotiations with the UK to downgrade environmental and social standards, for example, which will lead to more tax competition. If that happens, everything is over.”
Those two sentences tell you everything you need to know about the European Union. The EU isn’t a project aiming at promoting free trade on the continent, as many claim; it aspires to make all its member states equally burdened by its ludicrous regulations. Nothing could be more disconcerting to the Eurocrats in Brussels than a less regulated competitor. Countries such as France, which have been wrecking their economies by regulating them into oblivion, profited off the fact that the EU made the UK less competitive.
The UK should actually take Barnier’s threat seriously and consider its options. In April 2017, EU imports exceeded EU exports by £6.9 billion ($8.8 billion), meaning that the union is more dependent on the Brits for trade relations than vice-versa. Going back to WTO tariffs, which would fall into place if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, would mean harming German car manufacturers, Italian parmesan producers, and French wineries. It would be for Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and others to explain to their electorates that their stubborn ideals have killed thousands of jobs.
The United Kingdom has been unequivocal about the fact that it seeks freer markets and more tax competition. Finance Minister Philip Hammond indicated earlier this year that failed trade negotiations with the EU could lead to Britain “abandoning it’s European style social model” and considering an aggressively low tax policy. And they would be right to do so.
The EU acts like a bully enraged beyond belief that a previous victim has stood up for itself. While it tries to use the trade negotiations as leverage to blackmail the UK into accepting a bad deal, countries such as Japan, Australia, and the United States want to conclude trade agreements with Britain as fast as possible.
This shows that the EU as an institution is obsolete, especially considering its initial goals. What the European Union should do is stand by a free-market approach, which always ends up benefiting both producers and consumers, instead of trying to make an example out of the Brits.
Oh, and they should sack Michel Barnier.