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16 Jan, 2017 17:15

‘Our fate in our own hands’: Europe recovers from shock Trump interview

Politicians across Europe have been reacting to a wide-ranging Donald Trump interview, hitting back at the US president-elect’s “astonishing” statements on EU policies, NATO and the Iran nuclear deal.

In his interview with UK newspaper the Times and Germany’s Bild, published Monday, Trump said plenty of things Europe may not have wanted to hear, calling the Iranian deal “catastrophic,” labeling NATO as “obsolete,” applauding Brexit, and reiterating his intention to mend relations with Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that Trump’s position on NATO and the EU had "been known for a while."

“My positions are also known,” Merkel said, promising to "continue to work to ensure that the 27 [post-Brexit] member states work together effectively and, above all, in a forward-looking way."

"We Europeans have our destiny in our own hands," the chancellor said.

French President Francois Hollande responded to Trump’s attack on the EU by charging that Europe “doesn’t need outside advice to tell it what to do."

"Europe will be ready to pursue transatlantic cooperation, but it will based on its interests and values," Hollande said, before awarding France's highest honor to outgoing American ambassador, Jane Hartley.

The call to stand together was also voiced by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who said: “as with the case of Brexit, the best way to defend Europe is to remain united.”

“This is a bit of an invitation that we are making to Mr. Trump. To remain a bloc. Not to forget that the force of Europeans is in their unity,” Ayrault said.

Finland’s Foreign Minister, Timo Soini, said NATO will still remain at the core of European security under Trump.

“I think that military spending will increase. But I don’t think that the role of NATO is reduced or that NATO withdraws or anything like that,” Soini said as quoted by the Helsingin Sanomat paper.

“I don’t believe…that Europe and the US would drift apart,” he said, adding that if this somehow happens “it would be a great loss on both sides.”

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, expressed hope that Trump’s attitude will change after he’s inaugurated as the 45th president of the US.

“One must hope that the statements of candidate Trump starting Friday will go in a different direction. If the risks are summed up, it would be very destabilizing, which is not in the interest of America,” Asselborn said.

In the end, the EU rallied to provide a unified response, encouraged by Berlin and Paris, with politicians from different countries rushing to defend the European cause.
Iranian deal "proof that diplomacy works."

A year after its signing, the Iranian nuclear deal was hailed by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini as "proof that diplomacy works and delivers."

READ MORE: Trump's offer of quick post-Brexit trade deal welcomed by Downing Street

"The European Union will continue to work for the respect and implementation of this extremely important deal, most of all for our security," Mogherini said.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also defended the Iran deal, speaking of its “great merit” and offering assurances that the powers behind it “want to keep it going.”

Talking to British and German journalists, Trump called the Iranian accord - which the outgoing Obama administration views as one of its biggest foreign policy achievements - "one of the dumbest deals I have ever seen."

NATO still ‘confident’ in Trump

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that Trump's comments on NATO, which receives 70 percent of its funding from Washington, have “caused astonishment.”

The president-elect’s remarks were “in contradiction with what the American defense minister (Ashton Carter) said in his hearing in Washington only some days ago, and we have to see what will be the consequences for American policy," Steinmeier said. 

"I've spoken today not only with EU foreign ministers but NATO foreign ministers as well, and can report that the signals are that there's been no easing of tensions," Steinmeier told reporters on Monday. 

The head of the German parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and a close Merkel ally, Norbert Rottgen, urged the EU to deal with Trump based on his “real politics,” but not the statements he makes.

In an interview with Heilbronner Stimme paper, Rottgen called the American role in maintaining European defense capabilities “irreplaceable,” stressing that "we should shape a Transatlantic relationship also under Trump suitable for our security interests," he said.

NATO itself tried to calm the European public, with spokeswoman Oana Lungescu saying that the bloc’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, was "absolutely confident that the incoming US administration will remain committed to NATO."

"A strong NATO is good for the US, just as it is for Europe," Lungescu said, according to Reuters, saying that Stoltenberg and Trump have already discussed the president-elect’s demands for other members to increase their financial contributions.

In the interview published Monday, Trump pointed out what he saw as two of NATO’s main problems, which were that the alliance was “obsolete… designed many, many years ago" and that “the countries aren't paying what they're supposed to pay."

EU to benefit from better Russia-US relations – Austrian FM

However, some of Trump’s comments were met positively, with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz welcoming his plants to restore relations with Moscow.

"If new US stance results in the establishment of better relations between the United States and Russia… then it isn’t the issue of concern and vice versa – Europe and, especially, Austria could benefit directly from it," Kurz told reporters.

Trump’s views ‘dangerous novelty’ for Europe

German parliament Foreign Affairs Committee head Rottgen suggested that Trump still has “no real” policy towards Europe as his focus remains on America.

READ MORE: It’s ‘gloves off’ if Trump continues his Taiwan line as president, China Daily warns

"I think, the West as a normative entity and a political entity - that, I think, is in reality non-existent in his thinking. And, that is a novelty and a dangerous novelty for Europe and the world," Rottgen told  Deutschlandfunk radio station.