A Look Around Europe 6 September, 2022

Britain has a new prime minister, Gazprom is laying blame for Nord Stream 1’s maintenance issues on Siemens and the French president is imploring French citizens to cut energy usage by 10%. These are some of the events making news and shaping opinions around the continent today.

  • Boris Johnson’s successor has finally taken the reins of power in Great Britain. Liz Truss is now in charge and forming her government. Compared to Johnson, Truss seems almost demure, but when it comes to policy she’s a conservative firebrand. She comes to 10 Downing Street after spending less than a year as foreign secretary. During her tenure as foreign secretary, Russia invaded Ukraine. Truss was harshly criticized for a number of comments she made in the weeks leading up to the war and in the months since. Diplomatic faux pas’ more or less. Most of the criticism has come from the Russian government. Earlier today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the new British Prime Minister and said her reluctance to compromise will be of no help to Great Britain on the international stage. Time will tell if his words are correct.
  • A Gazprom senior executive stated today that pumping operations for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline will not resume until Siemens repairs or replaced faulty equipment. A turbine at Portovaya compressor station has developed an engine oil leak. Siemens claims the issue should not keep the pipeline closed. Gazprom and the Russian government appear to think otherwise. Winter is approaching and Europe is in the midst of its worst energy crisis. Germany claims the pipeline closure is the latest volley of actions and accusations between Moscow and Europe since the invasion of Ukraine.
  • France is adopting new steps as the energy crisis deepens. With energy prices surging, French President Emmanuel Macron announced Monday that his country will send natural gas to Germany if needed. In exchange, Germany will provide electricity to France if the need becomes necessary. Macron is also urging French citizens to reduce energy usage by ten percent during this crisis. Last Friday the French government announced that French electricity company EDF will restart all of its nuclear reactors by winter to help the nation through the worsening energy crisis. 

Shinzo Abe Steps Down Over Health Concerns

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced he will be stepping down in the near future due to a worsening intestinal condition. Abe, who has held his position since 2012 will stay in office until a successor is chosen. That task will probably be completed in the coming weeks. The Liberal Democratic Party, of which Abe is a member, controls a majority in the Diet and has the power to make the choice.

Abe leaves as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. His resignation will bring about significant ramifications for Japan, East Asia, US foreign policies, and defense strategies in the region. Abe left his stamp on Japan. A conservative nationalist, he came to power promising to kickstart Japan’s near-flatlining economy at the time, and counter China through assertive foreign policy, and strengthened Japanese military. “I’ve realized that Japan is expected to exert leadership not just on the economic front, but also in the field of security in the Asia-Pacific,” he said during an interview in 2013, not long after taking power. “There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law. It shouldn’t take that path, and many nations expect Japan to strongly express that view.”

Abe sought, and cultivated closer ties with the United States during his time as prime minister. He was the first foreign leader to visit President Trump after the 2016 election. Although the two leaders differed on trade issues, and Japan shouldering some of the cost of stationing 50,000 US troops in its country, countering China’s rising power was an area where the two leaders found common ground.

As the news of the prime minister’s resignation spreads around Asia it will be interesting to see how China responds. With Abe now a lame duck for the next few weeks, will Beijing decide the time is right to challenge Japan over the Senkaku Islands perhaps?

Brexit Becomes Official

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It took nearly four years to finally happen but Brexit is now reality. At 11:00 PM on 31 January (6 PM local time here in the eastern US) Great Britain formally left the European Union. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the night as not an end, but a beginning. In Parliament Square, and across the British Isles Brexit supporters celebrated. Understandably, Pro-EU Britons were not in a celebratory mood. Vigils were held, as well as anti-Brexit demonstrations although the point of these is unclear since Brexit is now a done-deal.

Now Britain will contend with what comes next. The problem is, no one knows just what that will be. In the coming days and weeks Britons will not see any immediate changes. The transition period remains in effect until 31 December, 2020 keeping EU laws in force for the rest of the year. The next step for the British government will be to come to terms with the EU on a permanent trade agreement by then. That will not be an easy task as many European leaders have been warning.

The next year will undoubtedly be filled with the same sort of grim warnings from the continent about the difficulties Britain will face without the protection of the EU. Supporters of the European supranational body in the UK will likely be outspoken on the topic. However, the voters in Britain have spoken…multiple times, as the case has been, and the position of the majority is now etched in stone. There will be no going back now, or at any point in the future. For better or worse, Brexit has taken effect and the destiny of Great Britain now sits entirely in the hands of its citizens.