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‘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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POLITICS

Danish PM strongly hints at general election after opening of parliament

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen gave a clear suggestion that a general election will be called imminently following the traditional opening of parliament on Tuesday.

Danish PM strongly hints at general election after opening of parliament

A general election is widely expected to be announced by Frederiksen on Wednesday after she opted not to use her speech at the opening of parliament to announce it, but subsequently told media an election was close.

“I daresay the election will soon start getting closer,” she told reporters following the traditional opening of parliament.

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When again asked when the election would be announced, she repeated the comment “I daresay it’s close”.

The PM was also asked by broadcaster DR why she had not used the speech traditionally given by the prime minister at the opening of parliament to announce the election.

“Because it’s the opening speech of parliament and I think it was important to give an opening speech in which I first and foremost underline the serious situation we and Europe are in, but also point out the areas in we have a lot of work to do, regardless of whoever is in power after the election,” she said.

Legally, the government could wait until June 4th, 2023 to hold a general election, which is required once every four years under the Danish Constitution.

The Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party has demanded Frederiksen call an early general election, an ultimatum issued in response to the conclusions earlier this year of an inquiry into the government’s 2020 mink scandal, which resulted in Frederiksen receiving an official rebuke.

The Social Liberals wanted an election called by the time of parliament’s return and have threatened to bring down the government through a vote of no confidence if an election is not announced.

“If a majority in parliament want an election to be held, the government cannot ignore that,” Frederiksen said on Tuesday.

She also called the timing of the election “remarkable” given the current international security situation and recent leaks at the Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea

Parliament is opened each year on the first Tuesday in October with a traditional speech given by the prime minister – somewhat comparable to a ‘State of the Union’ speech – in which she gives her assessment of the situation in the Scandinavian nation as the new political year begins.

In her speech on Tuesday, Frederiksen covered topics including Denmark’s economic challenges, climate change, strengthening the country’s welfare provisions and international security. She used the word “secure” (tryg) seven times in various forms during the speech according to DR’s count, but chose not to mention the election for now.

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