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'A great politician and an exceptional person': European leaders react to Margaret Thatcher's death

The former prime minister had a complex relationship with the European Union

European leaders put aside old quarrels yesterday and paid tribute to Lady Thatcher as a great stateswoman – and even a great European.

The European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso said Lady Thatcher would be remembered both for her “contributions to and her reserves about” the European Union.

He recalled that it was Margaret Thatcher, as Prime Minister, who signed the Single European Act increasing the powers of Brussels to complete the EU single market.

“Her legacy has done much to shape the United Kingdom as we know it today, including the special role of the United Kingdom in the European Union,” he said.

The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said that Lady Thatcher “leaves behind a great legacy for the history of Europe and the world”. He said that Germans “look at her life's work with admiration”.

The French president, François Hollande, said that Lady Thatcher was a “great figure who profoundly changed the history of her country”.

Despite her “unashamed conservative views”, Mr Hollande said that she had built a “straightforward and trusting” relationship with another Socialist French president, Francois Mitterrand.

Martin Schulz, the President of the European parliament, recalled that Lady Thatcher had once been a committed European. 

“Despite our clear political differences, Margaret Thatcher is a figure of historic significance,” he said. “No matter whether one agrees with her policies or not, Margaret Thatcher showed that politics still has the capacity to be a force for change.”

Reactions from eastern Europe were even more fulsome. The final Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbatchev, said Thatcher was “a great politician and an exceptional person. She will be remain in our memories and in history.”

“We gradually developed personal relations that became increasingly friendly,” he said. “In the end, we were able to achieve mutual understanding, and this contributed to a change in the atmosphere between our country and the West and to the end of the Cold War.”

The Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said his country should erect a statue to Lady Thatcher, “fearless champion of liberty” who “stood up for captive nations” and  “helped the free world to win the Cold War”.

Further reading:

Obituary: Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first and only female prime minister

Margaret Thatcher: Round-up of today's full coverage