The cast of Brexit negotiators is taking shape. The UK side has got its key negotiators in place with a new Prime Minister and three key ministers. The European Commission has now appointed its Chief Negotiator.
On 27 July 2016, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker appointed Michel Barnier as the European Commission's Chief Negotiator in charge of the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
M. Barnier, an experienced negotiator, is a former Vice-President of the European Commission and has been a French Government Minister with portfolios as diverse as Foreign Affairs, Environment, European Affairs and Agriculture as well as being a former MEP. So, he has had experience in the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament which should help prepare him for engaging with all three institutions in this process. He is well known to the financial services community and the UK for his work as Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services.
He will report directly to the Commission President who said: "he will report directly to me, and I will invite him to brief regularly the College [of Commissioners] to keep my team abreast of the negotiations." He will have the rank of a Director-General rather than that of a Commissioner. It is interesting that it is not one of the College of Commissioners who has the role which puts the matter at a distance from the College. He will be advised, in turn, by a group of Commission Directors-General dealing with the specific issues relevant to the negotiations.
M. Barnier will take up the position on 1 October 2016 – not immediately – and as the European Commission said in a press release on his appointment: "in line with the principle of 'no negotiation without notification', the task of the Chief Negotiator in the coming months will be to prepare the ground internally for the work ahead. Once the Article 50 process is triggered, he will take the necessary contacts with the UK authorities and all other EU and Member State interlocutors." So, a signal, that publicly at least, negotiations will not be starting as soon as some would like.
Incidentally, M. Barnier – a well-known marathon runner - uttered words in a speech in Washington DC in 2012 which could well be applicable to the upcoming Brexit talks: "this is not a sprint. It is a marathon. If you run too fast, you may well trip over. And you may never reach the finishing line." It is interesting to speculate whether that will be the EU's style in these negotiations.