French politician Michel Barnier to head EU’s Brexit negotiations

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The European Commission has appointed Michel Barnier to be its chief negotiator as the UK prepares to leave the bloc. The decision comes as British PM Theresa May faces pressure from Brussels to start the process soon.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday praised Barnier, highlighting his “rich experience” in politics.

“Michel is a skilled negotiator with rich experience in major policy areas relevant to the negotiations,” Juncker said. “I am sure that he will live up to this new challenge and help us to develop a new partnership with the United Kingdom.”

In a tweet, Barnier, also the vice-president of the coalition of center-right parties the European People’s Party (EPP), said he would begin his duties on October 1.

A seasoned politician with experience serving as foreign minister under President Jacques Chirac and as minister of agriculture under Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative Barnier garnered controversy after he was elected to the European Commission as its market regulation commissioner.

During that time, Barnier pushed for a single authority to help regulate Europe’s banks, a move some in Berlin perceived as encroachment by Brussels.

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The appointment comes as May faces mounting pressure to trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty, which will formally kick off the two-year negotiation process that will be led by Barnier and his British counterpart David Davis. However, the British prime minister said she doesn’t plan to do so before the start of 2017.

Until then, Barnier said he will “prepare the ground internally for the work ahead.”

Among the issues expected to play a central role in the upcoming negotiations are the UK’s access to the EU single market.

blc/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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