The clash between Mr Barnier and Brussels occurred when France held a historic vote to decide whether the country should ratify the proposed Constitution of the European Union. France’s europhile government hoped the public would back the proposal as votes were also cast in other European countries. However, President Jacque Chirac was humiliated after 55 percent of voters rejected the proposal, plunging the EU’s constitution into serious doubt. He then embarked on a huge shake-up in his government, with one of the victims being his foreign minister.
The move infuriated Mr Barnier, who described the call as a “beheading” and gave a defiant speech to his staff in the aftermath of the reshuffle.
Within his speech, he appeared to suggest that President Chirac’s decision hadn’t been taken alone, and that figures in Brussels had influenced the decision.
He told his staff: “The rejection of the European constitution and the changes that followed resulted in the beheading of the ministerial team at the Quai d’Orsay.”
He made his comments before handing over to his successor, Philippe Douste-Blazy, the health minister in the outgoing government and a man with little experience in foreign affairs.
Mr Barnier, who earned a long round of applause from his staff, made another apparent swipe at Brussels in a claim that echoes sentiments made by Frexit campaigners today when he said France was “no longer alone in making decisions”.
He added: “Others do not decide for us. We decide with the others.
“I know the rules and the laws of politics. They’re hard, but they don’t however prohibit the expression of regret.
“Regret that we are leaving you so soon, much sooner than we thought.”
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He then argued that France should stop imposing its views on its European Union partners and start to use persuasion instead.
He continued: “That means that in Brussels and Strasbourg, we try to convince rather than impose our views, to get people to go along with us rather than force them to do so.”
Referring to the result of the referendum, Mr Barnier said: “We have the proof now that we can’t advance the European project for our citizens without our citizens.”
The Dutch public also rejected the proposal for a European constitution, bringing the ratification process to an end.
Following a period of reflection, the Treaty of Lisbon was created to replace the Constitutional Treaty. This contained many of the changes that were originally placed in the Constitutional Treaty but was formulated as amendments to the existing treaties.
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Signed on December 13, 2007, the Lisbon Treaty entered into force on December 1, 2009.
Mr Barnier is now taking on the UK’s negotiating team in Brexit talks.
On the one hand, the UK, having voted to leave in 2016, is looking to secure economic autonomy – the freedom to set its own rules for businesses and also on fisheries.
And while Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to trade with the EU, the bloc’s chief negotiator has demanded regulatory alignment and continued access to British fishing grounds.