The Brief: Juncker and the two big destroyers

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker boasts that he has met “the two big destroyers” of his time, Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev and the UK’s David Cameron. But he clearly sees one in a more positive light than the other.

“I have met in my life two big destroyers: Gorbachev, who destroyed the Soviet Union, and Cameron, who destroyed the United Kingdom to some extent, even if there is no wave of Scotland becoming independent,”  he told the Financial Times in March.

He repeated those words a few days ago during a visit to Romania.

Gorbachev indeed destroyed the Soviet empire and the Soviet Union itself but, in the West, he is celebrated as a reformist of colossal magnitude.

If his life were a theatre play, he would have been the ultimate tragic protagonist: in his country he doesn’t have many friends, while the West covered him in honours, including the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Soviet Union was dealt a fatal blow by the Ukrainian referendum of 1 December 1991 when the Ukrainian people overwhelmingly voted for independence.

When one week later the presidents of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia signed the Belavezha Accords, putting an end to the Soviet Union. Gorbachev had lost so much control that he initially denounced this move as illegal.

Cameron is another tragic protagonist, having called a referendum he then lost. He is unlikely to be celebrated anywhere for his decision, as he did it only to improve his own lot and pursue re-election as prime minister.

Indeed, Cameron was re-elected on 7 May 2015 with a substantial majority, becoming the first PM to return to power immediately after a full term with the largest vote since Lord Salisbury in 1900.

Later, when he announced 23 June 2016 would be the day of reckoning, he said he would campaign “with all [his] heart and soul” for Remain. Whether or not he kept this promise is a matter for discussion but the fact is that the Brexit camp fought much harder and won.

Gorbachev visited Juncker when he was prime minister of Luxembourg. The latter man likes to make jokes about the Luxembourg-Russia friendship. Indeed, the Grand Duchy has never declared war on Russia, because, as Juncker has explained, Luxembourg doesn’t have enough room for so many prisoners.

Had Juncker not been elected Commission president, he and Gorbachev would have had the same side job of keynote speakers for high-level events. Surely the two would get along well.

Conversely, Cameron isn’t a friend of Juncker. He was the only head of government to oppose Juncker’s appointment as Commission president.

We can only guess if Cameron’s name is in his little black book called “little Maurice” where he notes the names of everyone who has betrayed him.

Cameron repeatedly spoke of reforming the EU but Juncker obviously believes that Cameron actually wanted to destroy the EU’s foundations.

On 5 May 2015, two days before the UK general election, and in the midst of the Greek crisis, he said that if Greece left the Eurozone area, the “Anglo-Saxon world” would try everything to break it up.

Juncker on 23 June 2016 insisted “out is out”. Now he has the pleasure of repeating that sentiment.

The Roundup

The Martin Schulz effect looks to have run its course after his party was defeated in the former European Parliament president’s home state. Angela Merkel warned Germany could move its soldiers from a Turkish army base if Ankara doesn’t allow Berlin lawmakers to visit.

UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson claims the EU could end up paying Britain an exit bill, rather than the other way round. An independent Scotland would want to join the EU but not adopt the euro, according to Nicola Sturgeon.

Emmanuel Macron is now officially president of France and has named his prime minister: Republican Édouard Philippe. Macron’s victory could put pressure on Poland and Hungary to fall in line with the rest of the EU.

Donald Trump wants to meet the man of the moment. Marine Le Pen is reportedly back at the helm of the National Front.

The European Commission approved France’s state aid plans for a new gas-fired power plant in Brittany. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said it would make sure there are no more electricity blackouts.

NATO and the EU have denounced North Korea’s latest missile test. Could you actually point out the country on a map, though? Most Americans surveyed couldn’t. The ones that could favour diplomatic solutions more than the ones that couldn’t.

Does anyone know who was doing yoga outside of the Berlaymont this morning? It was certainly good weather for it.

Sam Morgan contributed to this Brief.

Look out for…

Jean-Claude Juncker meets Bulgaria’s pick for Commissioner, Mariya Gabriel. If she manages to convince the Commission president, she will be assigned a portfolio and face a grilling from the European Parliament. Bulgaria hopes she will be given Günther Oettinger’s digital portfolio, which he vacated to take over former Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva’s budget and HR duties.

Views are the author’s.

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