Trump Ghost Looms Over EU Summit as Leaders Push Back

  • French president calls Trump statements ‘unacceptable’
  • Merkel says EU destiny ‘in its hands’ as relations sour

European Values Are the Focus of Malta Talks

U.S. President Donald Trump loomed over a Mediterranean gathering of European leaders, who used the meeting Friday to hit back at the new administration that has upended trans-Atlantic relations by dismissing the European Union’s validity.

“It is unacceptable that there be, through a certain number of statements by the president of the United States, a pressure on what Europe must be or what it must not be,” French President Francois Hollande told reporters Friday at the EU summit in Valletta, Malta.

As the EU grapples with the region’s biggest migration crisis since World War II, Britain’s impending exit and how to hold the group together in an increasingly uncertain world, several leaders showed themselves annoyed by the new U.S. president’s biting remarks about the viability of the EU project, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

Laying bare the tensions, Ted Malloch, who says he’s been interviewed for the role of U.S. ambassador to the EU, lashed out at the 28-member bloc in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Friday. Following Trump’s lead, he encouraged other member states to hold referendums similar to the U.K., which voted last year to leave the bloc.

‘Overly Complex’

The EU “is an overly complex fairly bloated bureaucratic organization,” Malloch said. “Its ambitions have basically overstepped its capabilities, so the question really is what the European member states want to see for that European Union.”

As the presidents and prime ministers filed into the Grand Master’s Palace in the capital Valletta for their first meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel struck a calmer tone, urging the leaders to more forcefully tackle the EU’s problems in defining any new relationship with the U.S.

“Europe has its own destiny in its hands,” Merkel told reporters. “The clearer we are, how we define our role in the world, the better we can maintain our trans-Atlantic relationship.”

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, the EU leader who has met with Trump, briefed the group on the new administration, along with Merkel and Hollande, who have spoken with him by phone. As British and EU negotiators brace for Brexit, Merkel and May were locked in conversation as the leaders made their way to Valletta’s baroque St. John’s Co-Cathedral, home to Caravaggio’s masterpiece, "The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist."

Defending Europe

The German leader, who has emerged as the bloc’s pre-eminent counterweight in defending Europe’s liberal, democratic order, last week condemned Trump’s executive order halting the influx of refugees and blocking immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries into the U.S. Heading into an election year, Merkel is likely to be pressured to take a tougher stance with Trump as her Social Democratic challenger enjoys a sharp boost in polls.

Trump “is playing with the security of the Western world,” Martin Schulz, Merkel’s opponent in the September election, told Spiegel Online.

In Malta, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU is not “threatened” by Trump, “but I do think there’s room for explanations because sometimes I have the impression that the new administration does not know the European Union in detail,” he told reporters.

Other leaders were less diplomatic. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern tied the influx of more than a million refugees into Europe over the past two years to U.S. military incursions in the region.

“There’s no doubt America shares a responsibility for the refugee flows,” Kern said.

Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, which borders Russia and has taken a dim view of Trump’s friendlier relations with the Kremlin, wryly noted the president’s penchant for taking to Twitter for policy pronouncements.

“With tweet diplomacy we don’t need any bridges, so we just tweet," Grybauskaite told Bloomberg Television.

— With assistance by Ian Wishart, Nikos Chrysoloras, Edward Ludlow, Caroline Connan, Ott Ummelas, and Thomas Penny

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