Transatlantic relations are an absolute priority insisted European Council President Donald Tusk at the end of the informal summit in Malta where EU leaders today (3 February) discussed US President Donald Trump’s comments on Europe and NATO.
“I have no doubt that for all of us this is still the highest political priority, to protect our relationship with the United States against its enemies,” said Tusk, adding that the EU had no other option than to regain confidence in its own ability to face the challenges posed by the new US administration.
Trump has voiced his support for the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU, criticised European refugee policies and called NATO “obsolete”.
“What is at stake is the very destiny of the European Union,” said French President François Hollande, conceding that there are nuances among the 28-country bloc.
“It is unacceptable that there be, through a certain number of statements by the president of the United States, pressure on what Europe must be or what it must not be, because that is what he seeks,” the outgoing president added.
But Hollande noted that the countries were united in coming up with a common response, whether it comes to European defence, trade or relations with Russia.
“There is also the need to ensure our own defence within the framework of the Atlantic alliance. We must protect our commercial interests when they are threatened.”
Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat reasserted the need to engage with the United States, regardless of the current administration. In a recent interview with EURACTIV, Muscat warned against falling into the anti-Americanism trap.
During the summit, some EU leaders seemed to snub UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s offer to be a ‘bridge to Donald Trump’.
May, who attended only part of the informal summit, had arrived in Valletta with the intention to brief EU leaders about her meeting with Trump in Washington last week, where she became the first foreign leader to visit the White House since the inauguration.
May’s swift support of Trump has upset a number of other EU leaders, who think her shifting towards to the new US administration ahead of Brexit is imprudent.
Dalia Grybauskaitė, Lithuania’s president, reportedly slammed May’s offer. “I don’t think there is a necessity for a bridge. We communicate with the Americans on Twitter,” she said.
A small group of EU leaders criticised European Council President Donald Tusk when he called the new US administration a threat to the EU.
In a letter sent to the 27 heads of state and government, Tusk warned against an assertive China, Russia’s aggressive policy and the changes in Washington, putting the EU in a difficult situation.
Tusk also told the EU leaders in Malta that he is ready to continue as Council president after his current term expires at the end of May.
“After talking to many leaders who expressed their support, I informed that I am ready to continue my work. But that will depend on the decision of all heads of states and governments,” Tusk told reporters after the summit. His only outright opponent so far is his native country of Poland.
The Polish foreign ministry released a statement on Thursday (2 February) distancing itself from Tusk’s letter. Likewise Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán, who was one of the only EU leaders to publicly endorse Trump, also defended the US president.
Donald Trump made a historic statement that it is every country’s right to put itself first, Orbán said. Change, he added, will happen soon and the era of multilateralism will come to an end.
Asked what he thought of EU leaders, like those of Hungary and Poland, who were leaning towards Trump, Hollande said: “Those who want to forge bilateral ties with the US are of course well understood by the public.
“But they must understand that there is no future with Trump if it is not a common position. What matters is solidarity at the EU level. We must not imagine some sort of external protection. It exists through the Atlantic alliance, but it cannot be the only possible route, because who knows what the US president really wants, particularly in relation to the Atlantic alliance and burden-sharing?
“We in France have a defence policy. We fear nothing… We must have a European conception of our future. If not, there will be, in my opinion, no Europe and not necessarily any way for each of the countries to be able to exert an influence in the world.”
In a demonstrative action, the three major “pro-European” groups in the European Parliament have joined forces to reject Ted R. Malloch as US ambassador to the EU.
Separately, S&D leader Gianni Pittella sent a letter, in which he says he tells Tusk and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini that Malloch would not be an acceptable choice and should be declared a ‘persona non grata’.
“The EU is the most successful example of transitional democracy and he is trying to use the UK as a Trojan horse,” Pittella said recently.