Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Brussels braces itself for 'tough' Theresa May

  • Tough, pragmatic, sensible, and knows the EU: Theresa May was the preferred Tory leader in Brussels. (Photo: Reuters)

"Tough" is the word that echoes in Brussels, when officials talk to EUobserver about their experience with Theresa May, the UK's home secretary who will become prime minister on Wednesday (13 July).

Diplomats and officials in the EU capital got to know a well-prepared negotiator, who has been attending council meetings in Brussels for the last 6 years.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"She is pragmatic," one official said on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the issue. "She is somebody we can work with," the source added.

Knowing her from council meetings of home affairs ministers, another EU official said: "She is tough. She is very eloquent, and she stands her ground."

Officials in Brussels say that even though the UK has opt outs from many of the policies on EU home and justice affairs, May has attended all the meetings and was very active.

She pushed hard for security cooperation and for member states to be able to collect passenger name records from intra-EU-flights.

One source said she coined the now mantra-style phrase in migration policy: "Breaking the business cycle of the people smugglers."

Other sources tell in chorus that May is rational, direct, straight to the point, serious and cold. They agree that she will be a hard negotiating partner.

"She was well-briefed, and felt comfortable at the meetings," one source said, who added that it won her appreciation around the table.

The EU official added that even when the UK was not involved in a policy, she intervened, trying to help forge a consensus.

"She behaved as part of the family," said the source.

There is also a sense of relief that the new British prime minister will be someone who knows how the EU works and would need to spend little time to assess what can be achieved, and what is impossible.

"She knows the EU institutions, the context, the backrooms. She is aware of all the complexities and that it is an advantage for both Britain and the EU-27 in the upcoming negotiations," an EU diplomat said, admitting that because of her knowledge of the Union's workings, May was a "preferred candidate" in the EU for the Tory leadership.

'Weak spot'

Already on Tuesday there was no explicit call from the European Commission for May to launch the Article 50 procedure as soon as possible.

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will send Theresa May a letter on Wednesday.

Sources said the letter will be standard for incoming prime ministers of member states. "It will only be congratulation," a source said, adding there will be no invitation or call to trigger the Article 50 exit procedure.

When asked by a journalist whether the commission chief can handle May, whom Tory MP Ken Clarke earlier labelled a "bloody difficult woman", the commission's chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas quipped: "I am sure Jean-Claude Juncker can cope."

May is also known in Brussels for what a diplomat described as her "colorful, interesting" shoes. The soon-to-be British PM herself said her passion for eccentric shoes was her "weak spot", the diplomat added.

What Brussels can expect from Theresa May

The UK's next prime minister is a familiar face in Brussels, and known as a tough negotiator. EU leaders expect her to lay out Britain's plans for an exit by October.

Column / Brexit Briefing

May: Some calm after the storm

The nomination of Theresa May as prime minister will put an end to an unprecedented period of blood-letting. But the honeymoon may not last, at least with the anti-EU media.

Theresa May will be next British PM

The current home secretary will be confirmed as leader of the Conservative Party after the withdrawal of Andrea Leadsom, the only other contender. The handover from David Cameron should happen shortly.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit plans missing in action

The Brexit referendum has created an almighty political and economic mess, with little sign of a British or EU plan to clean things up.

Cameron's advice to May: Stay close to the EU

During his last appearance in parliament as British prime minister, Cameron said it would be good for the UK and for Scotland to keep close relations with the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder
  2. Erdogan accuses EU of 'standing by terrorists' in Syria
  3. Migrants riot in Maltese camp
  4. Spanish PM refuses dialogue with Catalonia president
  5. Putin: Russia will help Africa without 'conditions'
  6. Almost 200 arrests in Catalonia independence protests
  7. Report: Russian hackers used Iranian cover to attack UK
  8. Next EU economy chief calls for looser budget policies

Opinion

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  2. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  3. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  4. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  5. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls
  6. EU leaders spent just 12 minutes on climate
  7. Crunch Brexit vote in UK This WEEK
  8. EU envoy sheds light on weird US diplomacy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us