EU nations express alarm after Trump closes door on refugees
The EU's traditional power couple France and Germany expressed mounting alarm on Saturday at key decisions by US President Donald Trump in his first week in office, saying they raised many issues of concern. French President Francois Hollande vowed a "firm" response to a growing list of pronouncements by the maverick tycoon, including his encouragement for Brexit and suspension of all refugee arrivals. Another EU founder member, Luxembourg, also said Trump risks bolstering "hatred towards the West" by slapping tight new controls on travellers from seven Muslim countries including war-wracked Syria.
Hollande spoke out a day after Trump - who has made clear he thinks other EU countries will leave the bloc - called Britain's exit from the European Union a "wonderful thing". "When he talks about Brexit being a model for other countries, I think we must respond," the French leader told reporters on the sidelines of a summit of southern EU nations in Lisbon. Trump's "protectionist" measures could "destabilise economies not just in Europe but the economies of the main countries of the world," Hollande added. "And when he refuses the arrival of refugees, while Europe has done its duty, we have to respond."
British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose country voted to leave the EU last June, plunging the bloc into an unprecedented crisis, became the first world leader to meet Trump in Washington on Friday. Keen to forge a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, May put the accent on global leadership as she cosied up to Trump, refusing to condemn his suspending refugee arrivals, saying Washington was responsible for its own refugee policy. "The United States is responsible for the United States's policy on refugees. The United Kingdom is responsible for the United Kingdom's policy on refugees," May said at a news conference in Ankara, after being repeatedly pressed to give her opinion on Trump's executive order. "And our policy on refugees is to have a number of voluntary schemes to bring Syrian refugees into the country, particularly those who are most vulnerable but also to provide significant financial contributions to support refugees in countries surrounding Syria," she added.
But other EU countries have different priorities, and are making their concerns clear. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn condemned the tougher visa measures slapped on seven Muslim states: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. "The decision is … bad for Europe, because it's going to strengthen even further the mistrust and hatred towards the West in the heart of the Muslim world," he told the Sunday edition of German daily Tagesspiegel, excerpts of which were released a day in advance. "The American president is dividing the Muslim world into good and evil with this," Asselborn said.
The French and German foreign ministers, meanwhile, voiced "concern" about Trump at talks in Paris. "Welcoming refugees who are fleeing war is part of our duty," France's Jean-Marc Ayrault said after a meeting with his new German counterpart, Sigmar Gabriel. "This decision can only cause us concern. But there are a lot of other issues that are causing us concern," Ayrault said, with Gabriel at his side.
Trump has also alarmed European leaders with his positive comments on Putin, and has left open the possibility of lifting sanctions on Russia despite Moscow's annexation of Crimea and role in the Ukraine conflict. Europe is firmly against this. The French and German ministers reiterated on Saturday that any easing of sanctions on Moscow must be linked to the implementation of the Minsk Agreement signed in February 2015. The ministers also said they plan to contact Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, once he is confirmed, "to discuss the issue point by point and have a clear relationship."