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This was Europe in the first half of September (by the Guardian)

07 September 2022

Tough and combative Truss might just be more pragmatic than you think

Does the new broom in Downing Street bring even a hint of rapprochement between Britain and the EU? Will Liz Truss reach out in friendship as Vladimir Putin steps up his energy war on Europe or will the zero-sum approach of the Johnson era also define the new prime minister’s?

Truss has not noticeably prioritised a reset with her closest geographical allies despite Ukraine and the global energy shock. She was a remain supporter but converted to the Brexit religion after the 2016 referendum. As foreign secretary, she introduced legislation which would, in breach of international law, allow her to unilaterally revoke the politically sensitive Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland. The row over the protocol has ruptured the UK’s relations with the EU and Truss’s bill has paralysed efforts to resolve it.

Her victory speech on Tuesday praised Boris Johnson’s achievements on Brexit. She has appointed a home secretary who would like to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights (which is unconnected to the EU but also underpins peace in Northern Ireland). She promises a “bonfire” of EU regulations including workers’ rights. And during her leadership campaign, she caused offence by saying the “jury was still out” when on whether French president Emmanuel Macron was a friend or an enemy of the UK’s.

And yet. Westminster insiders say that, given the economic headwinds already battering Britain, the “last thing” Truss wants is an autumn trade war with the EU. Despite the rhetoric used to further her leadership ambition, the view is that she wants a compromise on the neuralgic Northern Ireland protocol dispute – provided she can sell it as a victory. She’s not the only one: Joe Biden leaned on her not to wreck the Northern Ireland peace settlement in their phone call on her first day in office. It is encouraging to hear that Tony Blair and former Irish leader Bertie Ahern have been involved in trying to break the impasse is encouraging.

So perhaps Truss will turn out to be a more pragmatic figure on Europe than her campaign suggested.

Truss issues

EU policy experts are not overly optimistic. “I’m tempted to say that the jury is still out on Liz Truss,” Georg Riekeles of the European Policy Centre thinktank in Brussels, told me. “There is very little trust in the system and in the relationship, because there has been no good faith from the UK side.” Riekeles, a former member of the European Commission’s Brexit negotiating taskforce, is sceptical about the capacity for a constructive approach as long Truss refuses to back down on the NI protocol. “The basic problem is that the British government has announced its intention to break international law.”

Putin’s war and the ensuing energy shock could be seized on by Truss (and offer her cover with her hard-line Eurosceptic backers, if needed) to turn the page and seek a strategic reset with the EU. An editorial in Le Monde on Tuesday pleaded with “the self-styled Thatcher heiress” to see that in the face of Russian aggression, UK citizens as much as other Europeans, “deserve better than demagogy”. The western European media response to her elevation generally, unlike that in the Kremlin, has been generous.

France and other EU countries would welcome a closer relationship, Georgina Wright of the Institut Montaigne in Paris says. Truss will be invited to a summit on 6 October to discuss Macron’s proposal for a new European security organisation for countries outside the EU.

But the ball is in the UK court, Wright says. “Liz Truss has had a tough and combative tone towards the EU in the past. At the same time, she has shown willingness to engage. She attended an EU foreign affairs meeting on Ukraine in March. So there is a small window of opportunity, but it will depend on how the Northern Ireland protocol talks go.”

Energy nationalism

Russia shut down the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline indefinitely last weekend, sending gas prices soaring. EU energy ministers will meet on Friday to consider an emergency package that includes windfall taxes, mandatory electricity savings and a cap on the price of Russian gas.

Truss is promising her own urgent energy bailout for panicking energy consumers and businesses, many of whom are facing ruin. Coordinating her response with the EU’s would be to Britain’s advantage right now, Riekeles argues. “In a normal environment, the EU and UK today would be moving closer and dealing with the changing economic, security and energy challenges together. But this would require a basic level of trust.”

Rem Korteweg, at the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands agrees that an EU/UK energy deal would be “too much to ask at this point”, although cooperation to pre-empt chaos if Russia shuts down all gas supplies as Putin is threatening if an EU price cap is imposed, would be useful for both sides. “At the most” he said, “the current energy crisis could dampen Truss’ appetite to trigger article 16 [of the Northern Ireland Protocol], averting a crisis with the EU in her first weeks in office.”


As the troubling standoff over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine continues, stay updated on the situation on the ground with our live blog.

Until next time,

Katherine Butler

14 Sept 2022

Russia – and the EU – reckon with a pendulum swing of power
Russia – and the EU – reckon with a pendulum swing of power
Ukraine’s dramatic liberation this week of a swathe of its territory from Russian forces is being talked of as a turning point in the war. But what kind of turn will it take?

Russian troops retreated from towns and villages in the Kharkiv and Luhansk districts in what they claimed was a “regrouping”. People reported soldiers “literally running” (£) after a lightning five-day offensive.

Ukrainian forces are now on the front foot. As the Guardian’s defence and security editor Dan Sabbagh explained, hopes are high that reclaiming most, if not all its territory, is achievable.

“This is a game-changer. The initiative has swung from the Russians back to the Ukrainians. The advantage is psychological as much as anything else,” Dan told me.

Political calculations for European leaders are also radically altered if Kyiv looks more likely to win, diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour says. The reversal of fortunes could make the argument for sanctions on Russia and the ensuing pain of an energy war easier for European governments to support.

The counteroffensive also helps Zelensky’s campaign for more Western arms and air defence systems. Germany has so far resisted Kyiv’s request for Leopard tanks, Olaf Scholz’s hesitation driven partly by fears of how such a move will exacerbate the energy war.

On Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen used her annual state of the union address to rally EU governments, many of whom are fretful about the economic consequences of keeping sanctions against Russia. Russia will fail, and Europe will prevail, VDL vowed. Russia was waging “a war on our economy, a war on our values and a war on our future”. She also set out plans to secure energy supplies and ease the burden for consumers by taxing energy companies’ windfall taxes.

But will Russia unleash a new more brutal phase of the war in reaction to its rout in Kharkiv? One-step-at-a-time escalation is the scenario that defence experts predict. Revenge missile strikes on the Ukrainian power grid are a sign of things to come for suffering civilians. Whether the ladder of escalation culminates in some deployment of a nuclear weapon is the big imponderable.

The consensus inside Russia appears to be fraying, with TV talk-show pundits and ultra-nationalist bloggers denouncing the Kremlin for hiding bad news and listening to poor advice.

Rebuilding bridges in the post-Elizabethan age

For now, leaders (minus Putin) take their focus to London for the Queen’s funeral, her death covered with much reverence in the European media. Yet this marks another turning point. The Queen’s death and the ritual surrounding it is seen by many in Europe and the US as the concluding chapter in a story of waning British power and influence in the world, much of it self-inflicted, as Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff argued in a piece by Julian Borger. We have yet to see if Britain’s post-Elizabethan, post-Brexit new leaders persist in going it alone as they face multiple challenges, or if, in this volatile geopolitical landscape, they will soon want to rebuild bridges with their European neighbours.

‘Not rocket science’ / Bertie Ahern urges UK to return to Brexit talks
Bertie Ahern urges UK to return to Brexit talks

Published by Guestspeaker

A joint effort of several authors who do find that nobody can keep standing at the side and that “Everyone" must care about what is going on in today’s world. We are a bunch of people who do not mind that somebody has a totally different idea but is willing to share the ideas with others and to be Active and willing to let others understand how "today’s decisions will influence the future”. Therefore we would love to see many others to "Act today".

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