Michel Barnier launched a blistering attack on the European Union on Monday as he admitted that Brussels bureaucracy was a key factor in the Union languishing behind Brexit Britain in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The former chief Brexit negotiator for the European Commission offered the remarks in an interview with France Inter, suggesting that Brussels’ problem with red tape and centralisation had contributed to the bloc’s botched vaccination procurement and roll-out.
“It’s true that there were faults at the start”, Barnier said of the European Union’s initial response to procuring vaccines. “Why? Because we wanted to decide for 27 and not alone.”
The former main Brexit man in Brussels admitted it is “easier to decide alone than 27 above all when you’re not under an EU competency”, indicating this is “perhaps one of the lessons we should draw from the crisis”.
Whilst claiming that it was “too early to draw conclusions” as to which nations had responsed to the global crisis the most effectively, Barnier suggested that it had perhaps highlighted “issues regarding Europe” where competencies should be “given back to countries, to regions” rather than focusing on further centralisation.
“I recognise that there were administrative problems, bureaucracy,” the Frenchman told the nation’s public radio station. “There was an almost ideological mistrust of public-private partnerships. We don’t know how to take risks. The British took risks by financing the private sector. The Americans took risks. We don’t know how to do that yet,” he admitted.
It’s not the first time Mr Barnier has criticised the European bloc in recent times, telling a conference in Le Touquet last month that Brussels and the French establishment needs to wake up to the lessons of Brexit if it doesn’t want France to follow Britain out of the door.
“We can find, not just in the UK, but here in France, in the northern and eastern regions… citizens who want to leave the EU,” admitted Barnier.
“They say the EU did not respond to legitimate desires of citizens, there is social unrest or anger, one might say, because there’s no protection of external borders, some people say, immigration flows are impacting us… and Europe is also often criticised for its red tape and complexity.”
The former French minister has been featuring much more prominently on the domestic airwaves and is rumoured to be eyeing a return to domestic politics following a long stint at Berlaymont.