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Macron panic: Michel Barnier entering the battle in France will 'alarm' President


Michael Barnier discusses plans for future in French politics

But Mr Campbell also believes 43-year-old Mr Macron is the “man to get things done” – and says he is poised to take over the mantel of de facto leader of Europe once German Chancellor Angela Merkel steps down later this year. The former political editor of the Daily Mirror and ardent EU-backer took an in-depth look at Mr Macron’s credentials during an op-ed published on the website of the New European.

Mr Macron, who won the Presidency in 2017 after beating Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally party, has enjoyed a turbulent time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with much criticism aimed in his direction in response to what has been seen as France’s sluggish vaccine rollout.

Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, last month announced the formation of the “Patriot and European” faction among the Les Républicains (LR) party of which he is a member, prompting suggestions that he had his eye on the top job in France.

Mr Campbell acknowledged En Marche founder Mr Macron’s concern, as well as that Ms Le Pen, adding: “The news that EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier may be entering the fray is likely to have alarmed her and Macron in equal measure.

Emmanuel Macron Michel Barnier

Emmanuel Macron would be unnerved by having Michel Barnier, said Mr Campbell (Image: GETTY)

Alastair Campbell

Alastair Campbell believes Mr Macron is well-poised to become “leader of Europe” (Image: GETTY)

“Macron has undoubtedly lost support on the left with what many saw as a deliberate pitch to the right, for example in the law restricting the publication of videos of on-duty police officers, or the recently passed bill aimed against ‘Islamist separatism,’ attacked by some as Islamophobic, pure politics to play to possible Le Pen supporters.

“But as the wheel of the electoral cycle turns he is moving back to the strategic pitch that served him so well before, neither left nor right, big, bold positions, pragmatic but anti-populist.

“Hence his determination, for example, to put France at the head of calls for the richer countries to help the poorer countries get vaccinated against Covid.”

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Angela Merkel Emmanuel Macron

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron (Image: GETTY)

Looking to the future, assuming Mr Macron is successful in winning a second term, Mr Campbell said: ”As Angela Merkel prepares to leave office after 16 years as German chancellor, most of them as indisputably Europe’s most powerful figure, Macron now sees the second-term possibilities of being not just a leader in Europe, but the leader of Europe”.

Referring to the ongoing pandemic, Mr Campbell praised Mr Macron’s refusal to “engage in vaccine nationalism”, suggesting he, just as much as Mrs Merkel, Mrs von der Leyen, and European Council leader Charles Michel had done.

Mr Campbell added: “Similarly, there is no compromising his view that France, and indeed the world, needs more Europe not less.

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Michel Barnier

Michel Barnier has been tipped to mount a Presidential challenge next year (Image: GETTY)

Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Pen lost to Mr Macron in the second ballot in 2017 (Image: GETTY)

“He is determined to build on progress made with Merkel on his ambitious plans for Europe’s nations to do more together on defence, technology and energy, integrate capital markets, streamline EU decision making, harmonise more rules. He has unfinished business there.

“Whoever succeeds Merkel as chancellor, in the Franco-German relationship Macron will take the position she had when he arrived in the Elysée – the one with the experience, the one with clear objectives long understood.

“Added to which, the potential of a British brake on some of his ideas will be gone from the European motor.”

He explained: “Our exit removes one of the bigger obstacles to his drive to a more political agenda for Europe, though he faces considerable opposition from the populists and nationalists leading some EU countries to the east, (one of several reasons, speaking here as an adviser to Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, I was disappointed when Macron blocked their and North Macedonia’s path to EU accession.)

Emmanuel Macron factfile

Emmanuel Macron factfile (Image: GETTY)

“That may be his biggest challenge as leader of Europe, bringing East Europe with West Europe so that the EU can genuinely compete with America and China in the global power stakes, but that is the scale of challenge he has in mind.”

Assessing Mr Macron’s chances of victory next year, Mr Campbell, who helped Mr Blair win three general elections, said: “His own leadership has taken something of a battering at times, but it means resilience has now been added to the personal, political and psychological armoury on which Macron depends.

“He knows that to win again with the authority he seeks, he has to rediscover that sense of hope and energy, and new ideas, that propelled him to power almost four years ago.

“Self-confidence plus maniacal work ethic was the winning formula in 2017.

Alastair Campbell Tony Blair

Alastair Campbell helped Tony Blair win three general elections (Image: GETTY)

“For 2022, he adds experience and resilience to the mix and, whatever doubts his closest supporters may have from time to time, he does not appear to share them.”

Mr Macron is currently polling about 25 percent of the vote in the first ballot, marginally behind Ms Le Pen.

Crucially however, most polls give him 56 percent support in a second ballot when matched alongside Ms Le Pen.

No polling data is yet available which assesses how Mr Barnier would fare.



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