Blog: Barnier the Brexiteer? French candidate gets tough with EU on campaign trail – POLITICO Europe

A referendum on immigration and complaints about a loss of sovereignty to the EU. Michel Barnier will be familiar with those arguments after years spent negotiating with the Brits over Brexit — but now he’s making the exact same points himself.

Barnier — who late last month announced he wanted to be the conservative candidate in next year’s French presidential election — on Thursday caused a media firestorm after reportedly calling for “a referendum on the question of immigration” and saying France must regain its “legal sovereignty in order to no longer be subject to the judgments” of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights (the latter of which is not a European Union institution, as any good Brexit negotiator will know).

Speaking at an event by his Les Républicains party in Nîmes, Barnier also pushed for greater French power in Europe, saying: “We have to rebuild the French influence. It is necessary to rebalance vis-à-vis the German influence which dominates.”

His comments were reported in tweets posted by the Twitter account of the Les Républicains‘ members of parliament. But, after a flurry of social media activity and media reports on the comments, Barnier went into damage control mode. “Let’s keep calm,” he tweeted, adding that he wanted to “avoid any unnecessary controversy.”

His spokesperson told POLITICO that Barnier’s remarks “were only about the topic of immigration” and that a tweet containing remarks on legal sovereignty (which Barnier had earlier retweeted) “had been truncated.” Barnier has not “changed his mind on the subject” of sovereignty, the spokesperson added.

The legal sovereignty tweet has been deleted. A screenshot is below…

POLITICO listened back to the audio of Barnier’s remarks and he said: “We cannot do all this without having regained our legal sovereignty, being permanently threatened by a ruling or a condemnation at the level of the European Court of Justice or the European Convention on Human Rights, or by an interpretation by our own judicial institutions. And this is the reason why … we have chosen to say that we will propose during the first round of the legislative elections the terms of a referendum that will be organized in September next year, with two objectives: that of a parliamentary control on the quotas of immigrants each year and finally that of recovering through a constitutional shield our freedom of maneuver and interpretation on the subjects related to immigration.”

Barnier was speaking at the event alongside fellow conservative candidates Valérie Pécresse, who is head of the Paris region, MP Éric Ciotti and doctor and former MEP Philippe Juvin. The former Cabinet minister and European commissioner may be a big name in Brussels and London but his profile in France isn’t high and he’s a long shot to get the conservative nomination for the election.

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