BELGIAN AIRSPACE — President Donald Trump’s “worrying” moves to “untie” America from the world make it hard for Europe to stay on good terms with it, and are pushing the EU toward China, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Thursday.
“Now that there are signs that the U.S. wants to untie itself from international connections, the relationship with China is becoming more and more important,” Juncker told POLITICO a day before the main sessions of the EU-China summit.
“I am not very happy with the idea that we might now work even more closely with China than we are able to do with the Americans,” he added in the interview aboard the plane bringing him back to Brussels from Berlin, where he spoke about transatlantic relations and met with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “This does not fit into my old worldview.”
Juncker’s comments came in the wake of a tense encounter between European leaders and the new American president last week in Brussels and at the G7 summit in Sicily, and hours before Trump was expected to announce his decision to pull the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris accord on climate change.
The Commission president called his meetings with Trump an “open exchange of views” but acknowledged that it “was not always amusing for both sides.”
Juncker added that he held his own in talks with the U.S. president: “A Luxembourger is not afraid of an American.”
In a speech on Thursday in Berlin, Juncker said he hoped the U.S. would stick with the Paris deal and warned Trump that one — legally at least — can’t pull out of the agreement “overnight.”
“Partly worrying” is how Juncker described recent “statements of the American president” — diplomat speak for really bad.
“We must continue the conversation with the new administration, despite all the difficulties. The annoyance of the moment must not detract from the necessity of a permanent dialogue with the United States,” the Commission president said in the interview. “We must try to keep the transatlantic relationship in a good condition.”
Juncker’s attention will be diverted away from Trump, for a while at least, on Friday, which is the main day of an EU-China summit in Brussels. He will join European Council President Donald Tusk and other EU bigwigs in talks with a Chinese delegation composed of Prime Minister Li Keqiang and a dozen of his ministers.
“China has always been a very important partner for the EU in many ways,” Juncker said, indicating that it could become even more so, perhaps at the expense of the U.S.
But the Chinese are not the easiest of partners, he said. “The relationship with China remains difficult, however, because in direct contact with Chinese leaders you also have to address various unpleasant things openly. I will do that,” he said, referring to Beijing’s record on human rights.
Juncker was upbeat in general about Europe, which he said was “doing much better than six months ago” as Brexit “has brought the 27 closer together.” And even Trump’s “worrying” statements made EU leaders compose themselves and “have helped Europeans to rediscover themselves.”
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