Hollande urges ‘firm’ European response to Trump

AFP, LISBON

Mon, Jan 30, 2017 - Page 6

French President Francois Hollande urged Europe to form a united front and provide a “firm” response to US President Donald Trump, at a gathering on Saturday of southern EU leaders.

“We must conduct firm dialogue with the new American administration which has shown it has its own approach to the problems we all face,” he said at the end of the gathering as he was flanked by the other leaders who took part.

Trump has rattled the US’ traditional European allies with a range of radical policy plans.

He has called NATO “obsolete,” announced he would rip up a planned transatlantic trade plan and supported Britain’s move to leave the EU. On Friday he also signed a sweeping executive order to suspend the arrival of refugees and impose tough controls on travelers from seven Muslim countries.

During his first phone conversation with Trump late on Saturday, Hollande stressed the “economic and political consequences of a protectionist approach,” adding that the principle of “acceptance of refugees” should be respected.

Hollande had earlier told the gathering that “when he adopts protectionist measures, which could destabilize economies not just in Europe but the economies of the main countries of the world, we have to respond.”

“And when he refuses the arrival of refugees, while Europe has done its duty, we have to respond,” Hollande said.

While officially the new administration in Washington was not on the agenda, the six other European leaders who took part in the summit also alluded to Trump.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Europe was “ready, interested and willing to cooperate” with the Trump administration

“But we are Europe, and we cherish our values,” he added.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy defended the EU project, saying it had helped transform Europe into the world region with the “highest level of progress, civil rights and well-being.”

Also meeting in Lisbon were the leaders of Malta, Cyprus, Greece and Portugal.

The summit was a follow-up to a first gathering in Athens in September last year as part of a push by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to create a strong southern “axis” to counter the influence of nations in northern Europe.

The group is often referred to — sometimes dismissively — as “Club Med,” even though one of its members, Portugal, is not on the Mediterranean. It also includes some of the nations such as Portugal and Greece hardest hit by the financial crisis.

As in the first meeting in Greece, the mostly center-left leaders gathered in Portugal urged Brussels in a joint declaration to do more to boost flagging growth in the bloc and boost funding for strategic investment.

“We share the urgency of promoting investment, growth, employment, with a special focus on youth employment,” it read.

Rajoy said Madrid would host a third summit of southern EU nations in April. “These countries meet informally and they have no other goal other than to work for the people of the entire European Union,” he said.

The goal is not to create an “organization” inside Europe but to act “in the service of the entire European Union,” Hollande said.