Obama Defends EU, NATO Amid Doubts About Trump’s Intentions

  • President supports U.S. ties with Europe ahead of Berlin visit
  • European officials to meet Sunday to discuss U.S. relations

Barack Obama speaks at the conclusion of the Warsaw NATO Summit in July, 2016.

Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

President Barack Obama delivered a staunch defense of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization amid lingering doubts about the commitment of his successor Donald Trump to maintaining ties between the U.S. and its closest allies.

“The EU and NATO are extraordinary forces for peace and stability,” Obama said in an interview with Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper before visits this week to Athens and Berlin. “Europe is our largest economic partner and we have a profound economic interest in a Europe that is stable and growing.”

Trump’s victory drew a chilly reaction from some European leaders after the real-estate mogul in his campaign derided a free trade agreement that Obama’s administration has been negotiating with the EU and called NATO an “obsolete” alliance for which the U.S. pays “far too much.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said NATO allies are “irritated” with the president elect’s NATO comments, while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker mocked Trump on Friday for having allegedly called Belgium a village.

“What we need to do is to teach to the president-elect what Europe consists of, and based on what principles Europe functions,” said Juncker, the head of EU’s executive arm.

Greatest Achievements

In his interview with Kathimerini, Obama hailed European integration as “one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times, with benefits for EU members, the United States and the entire world.” His soothing defense may do little to quell concerns in Europe in the absence of more clarity from Trump about his plans for foreign policy and trade.

“After World War II, the U.S has been the guarantor of Europe’s freedom,” said Panagiotis Pikrammenos, former prime minister of Greece. “If this role is being put into question in a potential policy shift from Trump, then Europe will have to renegotiate the whole spectrum of its relations with the U.S,” Pikrammenos said in a phone interview.

EU foreign ministers will meet over dinner on Sunday in Brussels to discuss ties with the U.S. with Trump as president. A joint session of foreign and defense ministers from the bloc is scheduled for Monday, a day before Obama begins visits to Greece and Germany.

“This is no time to question the value of the partnership between Europe and the United States,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote in an op-ed published in the Observer newspaper Sunday, echoing the unease across the continent about Trump’s intentions. “Going it alone is not an option,” Stoltenberg warned.

The U.S. election compounded the shock as the bloc deals with the decision by U.K. voters to leave the EU, the first secession in the six-decade long history European unification. Like Trump’s victory, the U.K vote was seen as a backlash against the free movement of labor, goods and capital -- the underlying principles of the continent’s integration.

“On both sides of the Atlantic, we face the task of ensuring that our political institutions and economic policies are responsive to our people, many of whom feel that they have been hurt by globalization and trade,” Obama said in his interview with Kathimerini.

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