PARIS, March 31 (AFP) – Michel Barnier, who on Wednesday was named foreign minister in the newly reshuffled French government, is an ambitious yet low-profile politician who has built his career around his pro-European agenda.
Opinionated yet reserved, Barnier, 53, had served since 1999 as the European Union’s commissioner for regional policy and institutional reform, a key portfolio in the run-up to the enlargement of the bloc on May 1.
“He’s methodical, persistent, a hard worker who knows how to surround himself with good people,” journalist Alain Dauvergne wrote in a recent book about the talks to draft a EU constitution, “Europe Taken Hostage”.
“He’s also a politician: having served as a minister several times over, he knows the art of the possible and the mysteries of consensus.”
With European elections coming up in June, the EU set to welcome 10 new member states and the likely adoption of the EU constitution, Barnier’s experience in Brussels will be a valuable asset for President Jacques Chirac.
Born on January 9, 1951 in the Alpine town of La Tronche, Barnier’s passion for politics blossomed in his native Savoy, where he campaigned as a teenager for the Gaullist cause. He went on to study business at a top school in Paris.
Barnier, a sports enthusiast with close-cropped grey hair and piercing blue eyes, was elected to the lower-house National Assembly at age 26, making him at the time the youngest member of parliament.
As chief of the departmental council in Savoy, a post he held for 17 years from 1982, Barnier joined forces with Olympic champion skier Jean-Claude Killy to bring the 1992 Winter Olympic Games to the Alpine resort of Albertville.
Committed to saving the environment, he helped to implement an environmental protection policy in his home region, and was later tapped to serve as environment minister under Edouard Balladur from 1993 to 1995.
In the subsequent government of Alain Juppe, Barnier reconnected with his love for the continent at large, serving as European affairs minister from 1995 to 1997.
Initially perceived as close to Balladur, the independent-minded Barnier recreated himself as a Chirac loyalist, bringing along with him his unabashedly pro-European bent.
During his tenure as EU commissioner in Brussels, he served as the EU executive’s representative to the Convention on the future of Europe, which in 2003 drew up a draft EU constitution.
The document has yet to be approved, but as chair of the working group on European defense, his negotiating skills helped to seal a deal on one of the most difficult sections of the proposed draft.
He also had the opportunity to build up contacts in capitals across Europe, another useful resource for a French foreign minister.
Barnier is married to a lawyer and has three children.
Subject: French news