ROME – The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator warned Friday that the bloc won't discuss a future relationship with Britain until all 27 member states are reassured that EU citizens living in the U.K. will be treated "properly and humanely."
Negotiator Michel Barnier said preserving the rights of EU citizens and their families are his main priority in negotiations, and that British assurances are needed to build trust.
"The European Council has decided that preserving the rights of EU citizens and families will be the priority, will be my priority," he said. "It will not discuss our future relationship with the UK until 27 member states are reassured that all citizens will be treated properly and humanely."
Barnier spoke at an annual conference in Florence on the "state of the union," an event that took on added drama this year following the Brexit vote and the looming French elections, pitting the anti-EU Marine Le Pen against the pro-EU Emmanuel Macron.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker drew laughs at the start of the conference by announcing that he would speak in French because "slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe." He said he also wanted his remarks boasting about the successes of the EU to be heard by French voters ahead of the Sunday runoff election.
He cited the launch and ongoing stability of the euro currency, the peaceful integration of Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the European investment project as evidence of the success of the union that should be appreciated by all Europeans.
"The only ones who don't appreciate the successes obtained by the EU are the Europeans themselves," he said. "It saddens me to return to Brussels when I notice all this, and this valley of tears in which we are all criticized, offended, destroyed, torn to pieces, whereas elsewhere in the world men and women admire Europe. And they should admire Europe because Europe has been able to overcome decades, centuries of bloodshed and the Europeans were able to come up with a peace, a common peace."