Britain and France on Sunday night snubbed a contentious EU emergency meeting to align the bloc`s approach to Donald Trump`s election, exposing rifts in Europe over the U.S. vote, the Financial Times reported.
Hailed by diplomats as a chance to ”send a signal of what the EU expects” from Mr. Trump, the plan fell into disarray after foreign ministers from the bloc`s two main military powers declined to attend the gathering demanded by Berlin and Brussels, FT wrote.
The meeting comes as Mr. Trump appointed his key deputies. The president-elect chose the more moderate establishment figure Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, to be his chief-of-staff over campaign chairman Stephen Bannon, who becomes chief strategist and counsellor. Mr. Priebus`s appointment suggests Mr. Trump is sweeping aside some of his campaign rhetoric to opt for a more traditional path.
The split in Europe highlights the difficulties European capitals face in co-ordinating a response to Mr. Trump, who has questioned the U.S.`s commitments to NATO and free trade and hinted at seeking a rapprochement with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Trump at the weekend met Nigel Farage, the populist Brexit campaigner who has become the first foreign politician to meet the future U.S. president. Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, tweeted: ”If Trump wanted to look statesmanlike to Europe, receiving Farage was probably the worst thing he could [do].”
British foreign secretary Boris Johnson dropped out of the Brussels meeting, with officials arguing that it created an air of panic, while French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault opted to stay in Paris to meet the new UN secretary-general. Hungary`s foreign minister boycotted the meeting, labelling the response from some EU leaders as ”hysterical”.
A combination of Mr. Trump`s election and Britain`s vote to leave the EU had triggered calls for a total overhaul of the EU`s foreign and defense policy, with Berlin and Paris demanding greater integration. ”If the U.S. disengages from Europe, we need to look after our own security,” said one EU diplomat.
Ministers will discuss plans such as bolstering the EU`s ambition to mount joint operations during a scheduled meeting on Monday, which Mr. Johnson and Mr. Ayrault will attend.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg at the weekend warned both the U.S. and its European partners against ”going it alone” on defense matters.
Paris and Berlin had been co-ordinating their response to Mr. Trump`s election, while London has jockeyed to maintain its position as the U.S.`s main European ally. The French president and German chancellor spoke before releasing two separate, guarded welcomes to the president-elect last week.
Mr. Johnson`s refusal to attend will add to an already difficult relationship with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has told colleagues that he cannot bear to be in the same room as the British foreign secretary.
The German foreign minister had wanted to demonstrate that the EU was capable of rapid response when it came to foreign policy. Instead the disarray highlighted a familiar problem for Berlin, according to diplomats.
”When the EU`s most powerful country wants to lead, other member states don`t necessarily follow,” said one EU diplomat.
But the German foreign ministry put a brave face on events, saying on Sunday: ”It`s good that the EU meets … to look into the consequences of the election of Donald Trump for Europe.”
Other European leaders have openly criticized the incoming president. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker last week accused Mr. Trump of ignorance.
”We must teach the president-elect what Europe is and how it works. I believe we`ll have two years of wasted time while Mr. Trump tours a world he doesn`t know.”