EU’s Brexit chief puts Commission ambition on hold

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 29, 2018, Brexit Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier looks on during the last day of the European Union leaders’ summit, without Britain, to discuss Brexit and eurozone reforms, at the Europa building in Brussels. Senior EU official Michel Barnier said on September 28, 2018, he would not to seek his political group’s nomination to become president of the European Commission and instead will focus on negotiating Brexit. / AFP PHOTO / Ludovic MARIN

Senior EU official Michel Barnier said Friday he would not to seek his political group’s nomination to become president of the European Commission and instead will focus on negotiating Brexit.

Barnier, a 67-year-old former French agriculture minister, has taken the lead in drawing up terms for Britain’s European divorce with representatives of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government.

But he had also been seen as one of the possible candidates of the centre-right EPP goup of parties in the European Parliament to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as the head of the EU executive next year.

“I have decided today not to run for the nomination as the EPP’s European elections lead campaigner at EPP Helsinki,” Barnier wrote on Twitter.

The EPP, the Strasbourg parliament’s biggest group, is due to meet in the Finnish capital in November to choose a so-called “spitzenkandidat” — from the German for “lead candidate” — to lead its campaign for the European elections in May next year.

The group’s nominee is expected to be a frontrunner for the top job at the European Commission, the most powerful post in Brussels.

The spitzenkandidat method of selecting a commission president is not enshrined in EU law and Barnier’s decision not to seek the EPP nomination does not definitely rule him out.

“It is my duty and responsibility to continue the Brexit negotiations right to the end,” Barnier wrote.

Britain is due to leave the European Union in March next year following the 2016 Brexit referendum, but first Barnier and May’s team will try to arrange the terms for an amicable departure.