There is a “now Farage in every country”, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has warned.
The man charged with defending Ireland’s interests in the Brexit talks has said the threats to the EU now stretch beyond the UK’s exit.
In a wide-ranging speech to the European People Party’s conference in Helsinki, Mr Barnier also committed to bringing the Brexit negotiations to a conclusion.
There has been some speculation that the former French minister would seek to replace Jean Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission next year.
Opening his address, Mr Barnier said there was “no time for jokes, dear friends, the clock is ticking not only for Brexit.”
He told delegates, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: “We’ll 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.”
This was a reference to MEP and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who led the charge for the UK to leave the European Union.
Mr Barnier said the job of defending Europe cannot be done by one party.
“We need our nations to fight nationalism. We need our nations to build Europe. Europe is at a moment of truth,” he said.
Mr Barnier told a story of being at an event in Dublin five years ago when a student told him “Europe has taken my future”.
“He had good reason to say so,” said Mr Barnier, adding that the past five years have been spent “restoring confidence” in Europe.
But he said the European project is “fragile, under threat, it is perishable”.
“The future is now, not tomorrow. The time to act is now. We must stand up for Europe,” he said, citing key issues including climate change and migration.
Shortly after Mr Barnier’s address, the Taoiseach thanked the same audience for their solidarity on Brexit.
He said it had been “unswerving”, adding: “We need more Europe, not less.”
Mr Varadkar said Ireland’s priority in the Brexit talks is to protect peace on the island.
“We cannot allow that to falter now,” said.
On the future relationship between the EU and UK, the Taoiseach said he wants it to be “as close as possible”.
But he added that integrity of the European single market “must be upheld” and the UK must be prepared to “provide a level playing field”.
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