Brexit Britain is “like Game of Thrones on steroids”, a leading candidate for the top job at the European Commission said Wednesday as the front-runners clashed in a televised debate.
Frans Timmermans, the commission vice-president and the main centre left hopeful, said the political chaos raging in Britain should serve as a warning to others tempted by the siren call of populism.
The Dutchman faced off against chief rivals conservative MEP Manfred Weber and EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager in a debate that featured a few testy exchanges but no serious body blows.
With populist and nationalist movements on the rise in Europe, Timmermans said mainstream parties needed to do more to persuade voters of the value of European integration.
And he warned that voters who believed the populists’ rhetoric could expect disappointment.
“Look at what the divisiveness of Brexit has done to the United Kingdom,” he said.
“Today the United Kingdom looks like Game of Thrones on steroids — and that’s because of this divisive politics,” he said, referring to a television series known for bloody intrigue, gruesome torture and indiscriminate dragonfire.
Nearly three years on from its shock vote to leave the EU, Britain remains a member, its bitterly divided politicians deadlocked and unable to agree on the details of the divorce.
Currently held by former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the commission serves a five-year term as Europe’s chief legislator, trade negotiator and regulation supremo.
The EU is split over how Juncker’s successor should be chosen, in particular how great a role the results of the May 23-26 elections to the European Parliament should play.
Wednesday’s debate, broadcast on European TV stations and online, was the first to feature Weber, the head of the centre-right European People’s Party group who has the backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Weber — criticised by some as uncharismatic and little known beyond the EU bubble — said he wanted to “open a new chapter” as head of the commission.
Vestager, the Dane who has served five years as the bloc’s anti-trust enforcer, taking on the likes of Google, Apple and Starbucks, is aiming to be the first woman to lead the commission.
“It’s important to show that we do change and the most visible way to do it is to have a gender balanced commission, the same number of men as the number of women — that reflects our society,” she said.
Also taking part in the debate were Greens MEP Ska Keller, Nico Cue of the far left grouping and Czech MEP Jan Zahradil, who represents another centre-right but more eurosceptic bloc.