Sharks, wolves, and bears have one thing in common. The smell of blood draws them; like making drugs available to an addict, it sends their hormones, energy, and of course appetite into overdrive.
The UK referendum has drawn blood, and the different animals gathering to feast have all decided that it is European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who has been cut.
Never mind that it was the 28 leaders of the EU that signed off on the pre-referendum deal offered to the United Kingdom. Never mind that it was Council President Donald Tusk who stepped into the foreground of the cameras to take credit for handling that negotiation.
The scene is all too recognisable. Magnanimous speeches of support in the foreground, daggers drawn in the background, plunged into the flesh as soon as darkness arrives. A Game of Thrones is afoot, and Juncker is in a crowd of wounded. Whether he is bleeding or not is beside the point; Presidential flesh is more tender, a delicacy to predators.
Kassandra will walk you through the different animals, their current state of hunger, and intentions:
The career haters
The Nigel Farages of the world who hail this victory of democracy as Juncker’s failure. Kassandra doesn’t need to elaborate on their perspective or potential gains. That is obvious. Here we must also bundle in some countries whose (current) political leadership is on principle against what Juncker, a historical European People’s Party leader, stands for.
The aim of this group is not to dethrone Juncker per se, but to destabilise the European Union and cause as much destruction to the project as possible.
The insiders eyeing the throne
This is the most interesting category. It is filled with people who want Juncker’s seat on the throne. They have smelled the blood, and gotten hungry, and worst of all, impatient.
In the red (Socialist) corner, we have the First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans.
Timmermans has been in the news, most recently for attacking the far-right in the European Parliament, and defending Juncker in the face of criticism. However noble Timmermans may come off in the media, and however much or little of that may trickle down to citizens, is a metric measurable through polling.
Yet Kassandra understands that the Socialist First Vice-President, whose full first name is Franciscus Cornelis Gerardus Maria according to Wikipedia, is taking active steps behind the scenes to assist in Juncker’s demise. Both a media briefing exercise and political influence cannot be excluded as two potential streams of activity with this goal. (For reference read what Nicholas Whyte wrote last week about the history of Commission Presidents’ who were replaced and how.)
Timmermans, beyond having political differences with Juncker, is very upset with having been shut out of Brexit talks. More than anything, Timmermans recognises that this may be his only chance to sit on the iron throne. Not so ironically, in the past year Timmermans has used the infamous Game of Thrones quote, “Winter is coming,” at least three times.
In the blue (EPP) corner, Jyrki Katainen. Katainen is no fool. He has from the first moment of Juncker’s Presidency, been building rapport and an image within the EPP in order to be the next nominee for the position of President of the Commission through the Spitzenkandidaten system.
Before the UK referendum, Katainen had been quite active in trying to even devalue Junckers’ image in the EPP, through arranging limited internal Party briefings and trying to control the flow of information. Katainen, is also furious that it was Valdis Dombrovskis who was given the added power of Jonathan Hill’s portfolio, as he had considered that it would certainly be given to him.
Yet the Game of Thrones comes with reward and reprisal.
The dark horse: Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva. Georgieva has not been briefing against Juncker. She has not been trying to subvert him in any way, yet seems to have a strong profile to be the next President of the European Commission. As the potential for a run of the United Nations top job seems unlikely (but not impossible) at this point, Georgieva has angled herself as a team player who wants whatever is best for the Institution. And right now, that means strengthening President Juncker.
Her behaviour in this time of crisis may make her the ideal candidate not only for the EPP in the next Spitzenkandidaten process, but also one who achieves broader support. Her position as Vice-President for Budget, also means she can build further in this respect with the 28 member states of the EU.
The other institutionalists
This of course refers to power in the bubble; of which Juncker has amassed the most since the beginning of his term. The European Council leadership has seemingly had enough. And all the nice words in the world can’t negate the reality that especially post UK referendum, the power struggle has intensified.
The only certainty in the Game of Thrones and politics: there are casualties.