European leaders hit back after Trump calls EU ‘a foe’

'America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news'

Mattha Busby
Monday 16 July 2018 11:42
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Trump: 'The European Union is a foe'

Senior European politicians have responded to Donald Trump’s characterisation of the trading bloc as “a foe” because of “what they do to us on trade” in defiant fashion, variously insisting that the EU and the US remain “best friends” but that member states need to close ranks.

The US president’s confrontational remarks emerged hours after Theresa May revealed that Mr Trump, who is embarking on a whistle-stop European tour, had advised her to “sue the EU” instead of negotiating the terms of Brexit.

Mr Trump will end his tumultuous European sojourn at a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Monday but European leaders refused to be drawn into trading insults, although Germany's foreign minister said Europe could not rely on Mr Trump and needed to close ranks.

"We can no longer completely rely on the White House," Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. "To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe."

"Europe must not let itself be divided however sharp the verbal attacks and absurd the tweets may be," he added, echoing Angela Merkel's recent proclamation that Europe needed to “take its fate into its own hands”.

Meanwhile, in a characteristically dry riposte, Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, sought to reframe US-EU relations – which have been under some strain since Mr Trump became president in 2017.

“America and the EU are best friends,” he tweeted. “Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.”

Carl Bildt, the co-chair of the European council on foreign relations, tweeted a photo of French president Emmanuel Macron and Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitaroviç embracing following the World Cup final to demonstrate the friendliness that abounds between some European leaders.

“In the European Union we are not foes,” he said. “We are friends.”

The first vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, posted a moving short statement on social media where he insisted how the shared values and history that Europeans and Americans share binds them together.

“Calling your best friends foes only makes your real foes happy,” he wrote. “Europeans and Americans are bound by history and their shared values. Europeans will never give up on America because America never gave up on us. That’s what friends are for.”

Mr Trump’s incendiary comments came after he ratcheted up the rhetoric on trade, Brexit and immigration in interviews with The Sun, Piers Morgan and CBS.

“Well I think we have a lot of foes,” Mr Trump told CBS News at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland. “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union but they’re a foe.

“Russia is a foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly they are a foe. But that doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean anything. It means that they are competitive.”

Somewhat stunned, Jeff Glor - the interviewer - replied: “A lot of people might be surprised to hear you list the EU as a foe before China and Russia.”

But Mr Trump insisted: “Look, EU is very difficult... I mean my mother was Scotland, my father was Germany.

“And you know I love those countries. I respect the leaders of those countries. But, in a trade sense, they’ve really taken advantage of us and many of those countries are in Nato and they weren’t paying their bills.”

The US had a $92 billion trade deficit with the EU in 2016 with exports down almost $300 billion on 2015, according to the office of the US trade representative.

Elsewhere, the US pays around 22 per cent of Nato's budget. Mr Trump has long complained that other member states have refused to commit 2 per cent of their GDP to military spending and that the US is therefore subsidising their defence.

Despite the bombast, threats and nascent trade war, the EU and the US share the largest bilateral trade and investment relationship in the world while they also enjoy the most integrated economic relationship.

It is feared that Mr Trump’s actions could jeopardise this relationship, however, after he introduced tariffs on steel and other imports from the EU, provoking retaliatory measures on the import of whiskey and jeans.

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