There is now a Nigel Farage in “every country” in the EU, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned his colleagues. Michel Barnier said “those who want to demolish Europe” had gained ground across the continent and needed to be defeated in the coming EU elections.
He was speaking at the annual congress of the EU’s main centre-right party, the European People’s Party in Helsinki, where leaders such as Angela Merkel and Sebastian Kurz have gathered.
“Together, united we will win this election. It is by fighting together that we will gain the trust of our fellow Europeans because this election will be tougher than ever before,” he told his fellow conservatives.
“We 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 – in every country.”
Mr Barnier barely mentioned Brexit in his speech to delegates, which was styled as a wider pitch about the future of the European Union.
The negotiator, who is widely seen in Brussels as wanting the top job of European Commission president, has missed out on being the EPP’s lead candidate for the coming European Parliament elections because of his Brexit negotiating commitments.
“I shall fulfil my Brexit mission through to the end: it is my responsibility,” he confirmed to delegates.
Being lead candidate would give Mr Barnier a good chance of becoming Commission president, but there is a chance that system could be bypassed, with member states choosing another president.
At this point Mr Barnier would have likely concluded his Brexit talks and be in contention for the role again, meaning he could still get the top job.
The negotiator’s speech however did not appear to blow away delegates in the hall, with most talking amongst themselves during its duration, and his applause lines struggling to land.
Attendees were also distracted by Angela Merkel, who entered the room half way during the address and caught most of the attention, including from the official EPP camera operator, who turned their camera off Mr Barnier and into the crowd to capture dim footage of the German chancellor.
Ms Merkel is thought to back Manfred Weber, a German MEP who leads the EPP in the European Parliament, for the next job