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POLITICS

‘Iron weathercock’: Europe reacts to Liz Truss becoming new British PM

European leaders and political commentators on Monday reacted to Liz Truss being elected as new Conservative party leader and therefore succeeding Boris Johnson as UK prime minister, and there were plenty of Margaret Thatcher references.

'Iron weathercock': Europe reacts to Liz Truss becoming new British PM
New Conservative Party leader and incoming prime minister Liz Truss waves as she leaves the Conservative Party Headquarters in central London having been announced the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest at an event in central London on September 5, 2022.(Photo by Niklas HALLE'N / AFP)

Truss was announced as the winner of the Conservative party leadership race on Monday afternoon, beating Rishi Sunak in a vote by party members.

Her victory, which means she becomes Britain’s next Prime Minister, was expected given her healthy lead in the polls.

Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz was one of the first leaders to react.

Scholz on Monday congratulated Truss on her victory and offered a stock response on how he sees cooperation between the UK and Germany.

“I am looking forward to our cooperation in these challenging times. The UK and Germany will continue to work closely together — as partners and friends,” Scholz said on Twitter.

European leaders hoping for more constructive post-Brexit relations with the UK will be wary of Truss as prime minister given she has frequently raised tensions with Brussels by demanding parts of the Brexit deal be renegotiated and threatened to provoke a trade war between the EU and the UK by triggering Article 16 of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen was therefore understandably prudent in her response to the news. 

“Congratulations Liz Truss. The EU and the UK are partners. We face many challenges together, from climate change to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I look forward to a constructive relationship, in full respect of our agreements,” said Von der Leyen.

French leader Emmanuel Macron responded by tweeting, in English, his congratulations to the new prime minister on Monday night.

“Congratulations to Liz Truss on her election. The British people are our friends, the British nation is our ally. Let us continue working together to defend our shared interests,” said the French President on Twitter.

Macron recently played down comments from Truss, who had refused to say if the French leader was a “friend or foe” during a campaign event. He said the UK were friends “whoever its leaders were”.

Alexandre Holroyd, the French MP who represents French citizens living in the UK, also appeared to have those comments in mind when he tweeted: “After intemperate campaign declarations, it is time for responsibilities, especially the one of strengthening the friendship – historical and current – that unites our two countries and that is essential to our mutual security and prosperity.”

Media commentators across Europe have been making comparisons between Truss and former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

But instead of calling her the new “Iron Lady” (Dame de fer) French newspaper Les Echos referred to Truss as the Giroutte de Fer – in other words an “Iron Weathercock”, a reference to criticism that the new PM has changed her stance on issues to suit her quest for power. She was once a member of the Liberal Democrats party before switching to the Conservatives.

Elsewhere in Europe there were more direct comparisons between Truss and Thatcher and references to huge job she has to get Britain through the current crisis, which some media blamed on her predecessor Boris Johnson.

Austria’s daily Kurier wrote “Like her role model Margaret Thatcher, the new Prime Minister preaches free market, less state and more patriotism.”

A story by Die Presse also mentioned that Truss was now facing her “big career goal”. It added that she would have to take action soon, especially regarding the energy crisis. 

The newspaper highlighted that Truss’ government would essentially be a continuation of the Johnson years and noted that she, like the former PM, is a “convinced Brexit supporter”.

Much commentary focused around the job Truss has following in the footsteps of Boris Johnson given the country is facing a critical cost of living crisis with inflation and energy bills rising steeply. Many economists say the crisis has been worsened by Britain’s exit from the EU, which was directed by Johnson’s government.

An article in Norway’s Aftenposten simply said “Liz Truss must clear up Boris Johnson’s mess”.

Spain’s leading newspaper El Pais said Truss will continue the populist strategy of Johnson.

She will “promise citizens a rose-tinted future, without clarifying how she intends to achieve it”, the paper said.

Italy’s newspapers focused on the fact she’s the UK’s third female prime minister probably because Italy is about to get its first.

Newspaper Corriere said Truss dresses like Thatcher and her speeches are “robotic”.

The headline in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter read: “When Great Britain has big problems, a woman takes over” but the editorial by Katrine Marçal said “the expectations for Truss as a leader could scarcely be lower.”

Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet headline pointed to the many problems facing the new Prime Minister. “Truss takes over: everything apart from Armageddon awaits”.

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ENERGY

Italy to have enough gas ‘to make it through winter’

Italy’s current gas stocks should suffice for the upcoming winter but the government should be wary of unforeseen supply-chain issues, says ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi.

Italy to have enough gas 'to make it through winter'

Despite recent issues regarding Russian supplies, Italy should have enough gas to make it through the winter, said Claudio Descalzi, the CEO of Italian energy giant ENI, on Thursday.

“Russian gas has effectively been replaced” and the current conditions should afford the country some “tranquillity” ahead of the winter season, he added.

READ ALSO: Russia will resume gas deliveries to Italy, Gazprom says 

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, gas from Moscow accounted for about 40 percent of Italy’s annual gas imports. 

At the present time, however, Russian gas only contributes to around 10 percent of the country’s demand, with deliveries sitting around “10-15 million cubic metres per day”, said Descalzi.

Logo of Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Russian gas, which is supplied by energy giant Gazprom, currently accounts for only 10 percent of Italian gas imports, down from 40 percent. Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

ENI’s CEO also expressed contentment over the country’s gas-storing efforts, saying that national stocks “will soon be completely full” – according to the latest available indications, 90 percent of them have already been filled up. 

Descalzi’s words of reassurance came only a day after Russian energy giant Gazprom resumed gas deliveries to Italy. 

As previously reported by The Local, the supply of Russian gas to Rome had been suspended last Saturday due to disagreements over contractual obligations between Gazprom and Austrian energy regulator E-Control.

The incident had raised reasonable fears of a long-term suspension of Russian gas supplies, with Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani and Descalzi both stepping in over the weekend to reassure citizens about Italy’s gas reserves.

That said, despite the relative stability of Italy’s current energy status, a measure of uncertainty still lingers on. 

Descalzi himself admitted on Thursday that “technical issues on the part of suppliers” or an “exceptionally cold winter” might cause problems for Italy’s energy plans.

That’s why, he said, “regasification plants are so vital for next year’s winter” and to give further stability to the system.  

Two workers ride bicycles at the Barcelona's Enagas regasification plant.

Regasification plants will be vital to Italy’s plans to rely on liquefied natural gas supplies in the future. Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP

READ ALSO: What does the shut-off of Russian gas supplies mean for Italy?

Briefly, though Italy has chosen to bet heavily on Algerian gas in order to wean itself off Russian supplies – Algeria will supply Rome with as many as nine billion cubic metres of gas next year – the country will also receive a total of four billion cubic metres of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) from different African partners over the course of 2023.

Regasification plants, which essentially work to convert liquid gas to its gaseous state, will then be essential to unlock the potential of the new LNG supplies. 

Italy currently has three active regasification plants, but the construction of a fourth one near Piombino, Tuscany is now under consideration.

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