From the politically pointed to the deeply personal, Yahoo Finance UK can reveal the gifts given to EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
Exchanging gifts is common practice when senior politicians meet for the first time, serving as a useful ice breaker before talks begin over sensitive subjects. And Barnier has held dozens of meetings with Europe’s leaders since taking his role in October 2016, so it’s no surprise that he should have collected a small haul by now.
Some items have already been made public, but Yahoo Finance UK has obtained the full list through a document request to the European Commission – the EU equivalent of a freedom of information request. Here’s what it shows:
From former Brexit secretary David Davis
On their first meeting in July 2017, Barnier was given a signed copy of ‘Regards vers l’Annapurna’ – a rare photographic record of a 1950 French-led mountain expedition – by his then British counterpart.
— European Commission 🇪🇺 (@EU_Commission) June 19, 2017
In exchange, Barnier gave Davis a carved wood walking stick made in his home region of Savoie. The gifts exchanged reflected their mutual love of mountaineering but also carried political connotations that Barnier spelled out: “If you like walking in the mountains, you have to learn a certain number of rules.”
From first minister of Wales Carwyn Jones
Labour’s most senior politician in the UK also appealed to Barnier’s love for the outdoors, presenting him with the book ‘Landscape Wales’. He also threw in a bottle of Welsh whiskey to help the French politician warm-up after a long hike.
From Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Probably the best-known gift received by Barnier was the Arsenal football shirt presented to him by proud Gooner Jeremy Corbyn (main picture). The shirt had Barnier’s name on the back but Corbyn wisely steered clear of a number – should it be 28 or 27? It got the thumbs up from Barnier, who is an acquaintance of the club’s French former manager, Arsene Wenger.
From German politicians
The leaders of Germany’s regional governments presented Barnier with a carafe from high-end German ceramics manufacturer Villeroy and Boch, a company which says its “strong roots in European culture have shaped the development of a premium brand.”
The only carafes listed on the company’s website are for whiskey and are priced at £84.90. Useful for storing that Welsh whiskey.
From Portuguese politicians
Barnier visited the Portuguese parliament in Lisbon to speak to its European affairs committee in May and came away with a tray made from the country’s famously high-quality porcelain.
From Brexit supporters
Barnier met a delegation of pro-Brexit figures in January, who tried to make a point by presenting the EU Brexit chief and his team with a hamper of traditional British goods. They didn’t realise some of their offerings are manufactured by pro-EU companies.
We intend to stress the importance that an all-encompassing free trade deal is in the best interests for the people of the UK and the EU. If this is prevented, the UK will have no option but to leave without a deal and trade under WTO terms. pic.twitter.com/O32bx7qfVg
— Steven Woolfe MEP (@Steven_Woolfe) January 10, 2018
Take PG Tips and Marmite – they are made by Unilever which said it would be “negatively impacted” by Brexit and has moved its HQ to the Netherlands since the referendum.
From European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt
The former Belgian prime minister owns his own vineyard in Tuscany so knows his wine and offered Barnier and his team six bottles of Gusborne Brut Reserve.
It might seem odd that Verhofstadt would choose a wine made in Kent, where 59% of voters backed Vote Leave. But one attraction might be that Conservative peer Baron James Arburthnot, a serial rebel against the government on Brexit in the Lords, is a director of the company that makes it.
From new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab
In a move interpreted as an attempt at mind games, Raab presented Barnier with a copy of an essay called ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’ at their first meeting last month. Author, Isaiah Berlin, sets out his theory that thinkers fall into two categories: those who see the world through the lens of a single idea and those who draw on a variety of lived experiences.
The commission also said that Barnier had received “smallers gifts such as ties” from the presidencies of the European Council and various others publications and books from sources they did not disclose.
Yahoo UK also asked for details of hospitality received by Barnier. The commission said: “Within his mandate and in particular inter-institutional relations and numerous missions to member states and third countries, Michel Barnier regularly takes part in working lunches and dinners.”
European commissioners have to publicly disclose details of gifts they receive in the same way that UK government ministers do.
Because Barnier is classed as a civil servant he is not obliged to do so. UK government senior civil servants also do not have to disclose gifts, but do have to make public details of any hospitality they receive.
Barnier has though repeatedly stated that he should be considered a “politician not a bureaucrat.”
At the beginning of the negotiations, the commission said it will “ensure a maximum level of transparency during the whole negotiating process.”
And Carl Dolan, head of Transparency International EU, told Yahoo: “Given the commission is keen to make this a very transparent process and that Mr Barnier already publishes his meetings etc, it would do no harm to go further than what the rules say that he should do and to publish gifts and hospitality as well.”
Yahoo Finance UK asked the European Commission why their chief negotiator’s gifts weren’t declared publicly and whether Barnier had kept the gifts he received.
The European Commission did not want to comment.