May 5, 2017 12:15 pm

Brexit: EU head trolls UK, says English ‘losing importance in Europe’

WATCH ABOVE: European Commission President says "English is losing importance in Europe" ahead of State of the Union speech.

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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker kicked off a speech on Friday announcing he would speak French since “slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe.”

Addressing the State of the Union conference in Florence, Juncker added that he also wanted the French people to understand his message about Europe ahead of Sunday’s presidential election.

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Juncker said that some of the bloc’s weaknesses played a role in the outcome of the British referendum to leave the union.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani told the audience at Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio that the EU should face the existing “unhappiness” that turns citizens towards populist forces, adding that rather than attacking the populist parties Europe should understand why people vote for them.

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Later, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, Frenchman Michel Barnier, joked he would address a conference in English.

“I wish also to be understood by the people who speak French, especially two days before the crucial election in my country, but it is equally important for me to be understood by the British people,” Barnier said.

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The conference, on the state of the European Union, comes at a time of tensions between Brussels and Britain ahead of the opening of formal negotiations over Britain’s withdrawal from the 28-nation bloc.

Barnier said a priority in the talks would be to guarantee rights for some 3.2 million EU citizens living in Britain and for some 1.2 million Britons living in EU member states.

© 2017 Reuters

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