Michel Barnier: France's scourge of the City comes with an Olympic track record

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The Independent Online

Michel Barnier, the EU's financial services commissioner, was last night still putting the finishing touches to new rules regulating hedge funds across the community. But though Britain, the centre of Europe's hedge fund industry, fears the EU crackdown will damage the sector, most other member states back the new rules and the commissioner does not need the sign-off of the Chancellor, George Osborne, at today's meeting of finance ministers.

This is a battle Mr Barnier was always going to win. In France, the triumphs of the outsider from Savoie have been getting up the noses of the elite for decades.

Having first won elected office aged just 22, the young Gaullist from Grenoble made his name in the 1980s, securing the 1992 Winter Olympics for Albertville and his home region. That battle was won, as subsequent victories would be, with a string of uneasy alliances and practical compromises.

First, Mr Barnier convinced Jean-Claude Killy, France's most revered skier, to join him in fronting the bid. Together, they raised $100,000 (£69,000), and then persuaded rival politicians from across the Savoie to back their campaign, centred around a town chosen because it was not seen as competition for any of the more glamorous Alpine resorts. After launching their bid in 1981 and five years of frantic politicking, the International Olympic Committee awarded games to Albertville.

Mr Barnier, now 60, spent his political career representing the Savoie before moving to the European Commission. There too, he has attracted some criticism: but while he is seen by many as populist and even vain, the commissioner looks set to get his way over the City.