Pragmatic, childless pastors's daughters with killer instincts who were long underestimated by their blustering male peers, the parallels between Theresa May and Angela Merkel are striking at first glance, but that resemblance may mask more fundamental differences that will complicate talks on Britain's divorce from the European Union, pitting its newest leader against its longest serving.
''Brexit means Brexit'' is May's first favorite phrase. It offers assurance to Tory Brexiters and voters who worry about her commitment to withdrawal, It says nothing, though, about the shape of post-Brexit relations. In fact, it confuses dream to reality. Theresa May has so far avoided showing her hand on where she wants to draw the balance between access to the single market and national control of immigration policy. This will be the subject of two sets of discussions ( with Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande), in her first foreign policy battle between pragmatism and ideology.
Theresa May, a pragmatic technocrat, with Protestant work ethnic, must deal in facts and probabilities rather than dreams. The process of unravelling four decades of political and economic integration will be complex, costly and frequently bad-tempered. Britain that emerges will be weaker economically and have a smaller footprint internationally.
Although Theresa May is one of the 16 million Brits who voted to remain in the European Union on June 23, that won't make the British-European divorce talks any easier, but at least they will be more predictable than they would have been with a Brexit ideologue at the helm.
Theresa May cannot change the reality that it will be difficult to secure broad political consent for any of the many versions of ''Brexit''. On the other hand, it is also conceivable, she could secure a speedy and good-natured negotiation that could see Britain leave in relatively favorable terms.
If we have learnt anything these past few weeks is that politics can turn somersaults. On the one hand, with Theresa May's pragmatism, it is possible, of course, that Britain could decide in the end to remain in the European Union or to opt for something close to it such as associate membership.
On the other hand, the European Union should seek to maintain the closest possible ties with Britain despite its decision to leave, as emotionally difficult as this may be after the Brexit vote. The continent would be well advised to approach negotiations pragmatically.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
World Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: AFP-Getty Image: British Prime Minister, Theresa May and former British prime minister, David Cameron.