The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned of the need to fight political forces which want to “demolish” Europe, saying that all of the continent’s countries now have an equivalent of Ukip’s Nigel Farage.
Michel Barnier told a conference of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) in Finland that the EU was in a “fragile” condition but remained vital to protecting Europe’s way of life.
In a world where by 2050 Germany would be the only European nation able to sit among the G8 group of leading economies in its own right, Mr Barnier said the preservation of the EU was essential to ensure the continent’s future was not shaped by emerging giants like China.
Mr Barnier made no predictions about the UK’s fortunes following Brexit, but his comment suggests he expects it to slip out of the club of the world’s largest economies over the next three decades.
Calling for delegates to “stand up for Europe”, he said: “We need a strong Europe that speaks in one and the same voice.
“We need an EU that is capable and credible when it comes to security, defence, cyber-security and civil protection.”
A former vice-president of the EPP and European commissioner, Mr Barnier last month ruled himself out of seeking the party’s nomination as lead candidate for next year’s European Parliament elections, saying that it was not “compatible” with his role as Brexit negotiator.
If chosen as “Spitzenkandidat”, he would have been in pole position to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission president.
Addressing the EPP in Helsinki, he said he remained determined to see the Brexit process through: “I shall fulfil my Brexit mission to the end. It is my responsibility.”
Mr Barnier made only passing reference to the Brexit talks, but told EPP delegates: “The European project is fragile, it is under threat, it is perishable and at the same time it is vital.”
And he said: “We all have to fight against those who want to demolish Europe with their fear, their populist deceit, their attacks against the European project. There is now a Farage in every country.”
He said: “In 2050, no single European country will sit alone at the table of the G8, except maybe Germany.
“We must forcefully defend and promote our European model. If we don’t write the rules of our game, China will write them for us.
“We want a Europe that brings opportunities for everyone, a renewed social market economy.”
He called for the EU to “massively invest” in the technologies of the future, like artificial intelligence and electric vehicles, to fight climate change by reducing emissions to zero by 2050 and to establish firm protection of external borders against irregular migration.
“If we want a Europe that is sovereign and close to citizens on what really matters, the time to act is now,” said Mr Barnier.
“We must stand up for Europe.”