‘Cocky troublemaker’: What the German media makes of ‘Brexit Boris’

Boris Johnson is the new UK Prime Minister after winning the Conservative party leadership contest on Tuesday. But he faces an awkward relationship with Germany and the rest of Europe.

'Cocky troublemaker': What the German media makes of 'Brexit Boris'
Boris Johnson, former UK Foreign Minister, with his then German counterpart Frank Walter-Steinmeier in 2016 during a press conference in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Johnson had long been the favourite to win the Conservative leadership race ahead of Jeremy Hunt and will take over as the head of the UK's government on Wednesday.

But the decision will leave many Germans scratching their heads as they wonder how the UK has come to have a leader that leading German news show Tagesschau describe as a “cocky troublemaker”.

In an opinion piece published on Spiegel Online on Tuesday, Jörg Schindler wrote: “He's been dreaming of this for decades.

“But once he enters into his new life as Prime Minister, he will have to stand in front of the door and explain to his compatriots what he actually plans to do. Johnson is set to do that on Wednesday afternoon. And at that moment, he will begin breaking his promises.”

As Johnson, dubbed “Brexit-Boris” by Germany's top selling daily newspaper Bild, prepares to enter 10 Downing Street, commentators in Germany have raised strong doubts over his ability to get the UK out of Brexit deadlock.

The former London mayor has promised to seek a new deal with the EU or leave without an agreement on October 31st, the current scheduled withdrawal date, in what would be a ‘no-deal' Brexit.

READ ALSO: 'A giant liar with a mop of hair': What the French think of Boris Johnson

But the British parliament has rejected a withdrawal deal reached by outgoing PM Theresa May and the EU three times.

Johnson claims he can land a new deal which can pass parliament, but the EU has consistently said the agreement is final and cannot be reopened for further negotiations.

“Europe is in for a turbulent autumn,” wrote Schindler in the latest issue of Spiegel magazine, adding: “Johnson may have inexhaustible charisma, but he doesn't have a plan – only an apparently unshakable belief in himself. But how far will that take him?”

If the words seem a tad harsh then the pictures are even more cutting. On the cover, Johnson has been transformed into Alfred E. Neumann, the fictitious character of the American satirical magazine MAD, a worldwide symbol of boundless stupidity.

Next to it are the words: ‘Mad in England – How Boris Johnson turned the British against Europe.’

“History is repeating itself,” wrote Schindler. “The country that gave birth to modern democracy now seems willing to elect a populist born in New York who has made his peculiar hair his trademark and who, as a member of the elite, is now agitating against them – and who feels like he is destined for greatness.”

Johnson is often compared to the US President in German media.

Bild published a list of things to know about the new British PM, including a bullet point about his “hairstyle-doppelgänger (lookalike)”.

“Johnson not only has the same birthplace as Donald Trump, but also a very similar hairstyle,” Bild wrote. “Both are blond. But while the Trump quiff always stays in place, Brexit-Boris' hair sometimes swirls wildly around.”

A float during Colonge's carnival celebrations depicting Brexit. Photo: DPA

It’s not surprising that EU-bashing Johnson is not particularly well-favoured in Germany, a country where the majority of people are pro-European.

In a commentary piece for Deutsche Welle, Christoph Hasselbach described Johnson, often called BoJo, as a “rogue” and a “foreign object”, saying German politicians are “stunned by the Boris Johnson phenomenon”.

Hasselbach said Theresa May came from a similar political world as German politicians, where reasonable compromises are the norm. Not so for her replacement.

“Boris Johnson is the antithesis, and he makes Berlin politicians as speechless in the same way as Donald Trump,” said Hasselbach. 

Hasselbach wrote that Johnson’s plan for Brexit “will of course go wrong and Britain will remain isolated and impoverished”.

“There is no doubt about that in Germany they are looking forward to the moment when Johnson and the misguided half of the British population will see exactly that,” he added.

Unimaginable in Germany

In fact, the very idea of a person like Johnson gaining such power is unimaginable in Germany, commentators say.

'There could never be a German Boris Johnson’ was the headline of a recent column by journalist Nick Cohen for the Spectator, which was also published in German daily Die Welt.

READ ALSO: 'He looks like a man who slept in his car': What the Danish media thinks of Boris Johnson

“If an ambitious German were to affect the style of a junker, he would be greeted with incomprehension,” Cohen wrote.

“Prussia no longer exists. With the Second and Third Reich, its ruling class discredited and destroyed itself. Britain, by contrast, appears to be a lucky country. Fascists never took power, and its ruling class was never disgraced by collaboration. Communists never took power and seized their wealth. Our old order can still appear cuddly rather than sinister.”

Berlin daily the Tagesspiegel called BoJo “a prime minister without a plan – but with great ambitions”, highlighting his climb to the top.

In the commentary, Albrecht Meier gave a similar damning report to other publications. He said: “The newly inflamed love between the conservative base and the blonde power politician says a lot about the state of British politics.”

Meier said Johnson clearly has no “proper plan” on how the negotiations with the EU over Brexit should be structured. 

“His strategy: hoping for the EU to collapse,” Meier wrote.

It's not just newspapers that have raised concerns about Boris. The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) poked fun at the politician and Brexit in its campaign ahead of the European Parliament elections which took place in May.

“Brexit?” one of their posters read, with a picture of Johnson dangling in the sky carrying Union Jack flags and looking helpless. “Europe is the answer,” it continues, adding: “Come together.”

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How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

While far-right groups have been celebrating, other politicians in Germany see the results as worrying. Here's a look at the reaction.

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

According to initial projections following Italy’s election on Sunday, the coalition led by Georgia Meloni and her radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party has won a majority of seats in the two chambers of the Italian parliament and will lead the next government. 

Meloni is a euro-sceptic who has previously spoken about having an “aversion” to Germany and referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as “socialist” while on the campaign trail.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday: “We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won’t change.” 

READ ALSO: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A Finance Ministry spokesperson added that Berlin expected the new Italian government to continue to respect the stability pact that sets the fiscal rules for the eurozone.

Despite these reassurances from the central government, German politicians in the EU parliament have expressed concern about the new direction for Italy.  

Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the EU Parliament, said the “unprecedented Italian slide to the right” will have massive repercussions for Europe and for the European Union.

“Italy, as a founding member and the third strongest economy in the EU, is heading for an anti-democratic and anti-European government.”

Though Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone, she has said that Rome must assert its interests more and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

The Greens’ co-leader in Brussels, Thomas Waitz, told Die Welt that the EU can only function if it sticks together, for example on cooperation in energy markets, decisions on Russian sanctions or dealing with the Covid crisis. “Meloni, on the other hand, would back national go-it-alones. It can be a disaster for Europe,”  he said. 

READ ALSO: Euro falls to 20-year low against US dollar

The FDP’s expert on Europe, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, takes a similar view. He said on ARD’s Morgenmagazin that cooperation with Italy in the European Union will become more difficult. He said that it will now be much more difficult to achieve unity in Europe, especially on the issues of migration, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact and the single market.

Speaking on RTL, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour called the election results in Italy “worrying” and pointed out that people within the Italian right-wing nationalist alliance have “very close entanglements with the Kremlin”.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that people in Moscow also popped the corks last night,” he said.

Germany’s own far-right party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has been celebrating the victory. 

AfD member of the Bundestag Beatrix von Storch wrote “We cheer with Italy!” on Twitter late Sunday evening.

Referring to the recent elections in Sweden, where the right was also successful, von Storch wrote: “Sweden in the north, Italy in the south: left-wing governments are so yesterday.”

Her party colleague Malte Kaufmann tweeted, “A good day for Italy – a good day for Europe.”

With reporting from AFP