Is this the magical setting of the Parisian Bouffes du Nord theater? The packed house, sold out, who applauded from his entry on stage? The crucial moment that crosses the negotiations on Brexit to which he dedicates his life since exactly three years to manage, on behalf of the European Union, this historical divorce?
Invited World Festival, Saturday, October 5, Michel Barnier, 68, had left the cloakroom image of the "technocrat without charisma" to deliver a passionate and moving lesson on Europe and Brexit, this adventure "Loser-loser" that he was determined to drive "In an orderly manner".
Did he suspect the difficulty of what awaited him, when Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the Commission, asked him, soon after the British referendum in 2016, to take on this unprecedented issue? "I imagined it would be very complicated, and I was not disappointed! " he answers. It was, after all, "Unraveling forty-four years of integration" with a country that is about to "Leave almost 700 agreements".
Three tours of Europe
This Saturday, four days after the submission of a final offer of agreement by the British government of Boris Johnson, two weeks of a decisive European Council and three weeks from the fateful date of October 31 to which, except postponed , the UK should separate from the EU, Barnier judge "A very difficult agreement, but possible". If London does not "Does not return with new proposals on two serious problems that we have reported to them, I do not see how we could advance," he says. These problems concern the return of customs controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the right of veto over the agreement London wants to grant to Northern Ireland.
" The "No deal" will never be the choice of the EU ", says he. If it happened, " it would be – and I want to emphasize the conditional – it would be the choice of the United Kingdom ".
With captivating educational clarity, the former minister becomes a teacher to explain his Brexit method. This method is first of all that of " transparency ", he recognizes that it was not necessarily the rule in Brussels. "I have a conviction, since the beginning of this negotiation, is that it can not be secret, that's why I came to talk about it", he explains to the audience. The chief negotiator gets to surround himself with a team of shock: fifty people, "Average age 38, parity, representing eighteen nationalities", led by two women: the German Sabine Weyand, assistant to Mr. Barnier during these three years, who has just been appointed director general of the Commission for Commerce, and the French Stéphanie Riso, who should lead the cabinet of the designated Commissioner Sylvie Goulard.
Michel Barnier makes himself strong"Keep informed" the Twenty-Seven, as well as the European Parliament. In three years, he has made this tour of Europe three times.
Another conviction of Michel Barnier, on the difficult question of Ireland which proved, with the famous backstop, the stumbling block of Brexit: "We must preserve the unity of the island," since the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement excludes the return of a physical border between the two Irish, "But also to protect the integrity of the single European market". Ireland, North and South, he was well known, as European Commissioner for Regional Policy at the time of the peace agreements. And, obviously, she cares for him.
When, he says, at a recent lunch, Boris Johnson tells him, like Pastor Ian Paisley, "That the Northern Irish are British but their Irish cows", he retorts, "But your cows, sir, they are European! "Good point! " concedes Boris Johnson. And, when asked if we have not sometimes lost in the technical details of the negotiation, the answer fuse, indignant: "But peace is not technical! "
Michel Barnier remembers a meeting he had with twenty women a year ago in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, a region marked by violence: "They were working on a cooperation program between North and South. Some cried, they told me that it was not necessary that it starts again, that they did not want any more to see their brothers, their husbands, to leave and not to return. They said to me: do not let us go. We have a responsibility to them. "
"The question of peace and stability in Ireland is not technical, he resumes. Protecting the health of European consumers is not technical, nor is it legal certainty. Only solutions are. The problems of Brexit are concrete, immediate for millions of citizens, and we must find sustainable solutions now. For Brexit is not temporary, and peace can not be temporary either. "
"Agreement or not, it's not the end of the story, the whole future relationship with the United Kingdom remains to be defined"
And if the negotiations fail? "We are ready for a "No deal", even if we do not wish it, He said. And then, "Okay or not, it's not the end of the story. The whole future relationship with the United Kingdom remains to be defined. The most important thing is reconstruction. "
Diplomate, Michel Barnier refuses to comment on the sinking of British political life. It does not retreat, however, in front of "Lessons of Brexit" : he must, he says, answer "To social anger" who makes the bed of populism, and speak of Europe to the citizens. On Europe, "In our country, too many politicians are shaving the walls instead of walking in the middle of the road".
"The UK has chosen to be lonely rather than supportive," regrets there. "With the evolutions of today's world, European countries, individually, will no longer be at the table of the great countries of this world in 2050. If we want to participate in the new world order, we have to be around the table. " The only way, "It's about being together, at Twenty-Seven".
A spectator gets up, tells him that he came from afar to thank him. And, before the last length of Brexit, Bouffes du Nord offers Michel Barnier a standing ovation.
See you at the 2019 World Festival on the theme "Imagine"!
The writing of World from October 4 to 6 in Paris, a selection of debates, shows and meetings with a hundred personalities, including writers Russell Banks and Eve Ensler, feminist author of Monologues of the vagina, the essayist Belinda Cannone, the economist Laurence Boone, the humorist Fary …
With about thirty debates in connection with current affairs ("Putin the ingest", "What future for the indignant?" …) or on social issues: "Tomorrow, what meat will we eat? Or "Drag, voguing, the queer on the front of the stage" …
Not to mention the "Nuit de l'imaginaire", the participatory dance session at the Opéra Bastille, the "false trial" chaired by Renaud Van Ruymbeke, and the film previews in the presence of the production teams (Wretched, from Ladj Ly, It Must Be Heaven, from Elia Suleiman, The traitor, Marco Bellocchio).
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