EU Diplomats Seek Greater Role

EU Diplomats Seek Greater Role

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Top EU diplomats are calling for more robust European defense and a greater European voice in world affairs as Donald Trump — whose isolationist, protectionist promises have worried many on this side of the Atlantic — prepares to assume the U.S. presidency.

With many question marks around Trump's foreign policy plans, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed Sunday night on the need to strengthen Europe's role in world affairs until the future of trans-Atlantic relations becomes clearer.

The top diplomats will join defense ministers Monday to discuss cooperation with NATO, whose future is uncertain after Trump suggested that Washington could abandon its NATO commitments, which include mutual defense in case of an attack.

"The European Union is a superpower," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters. She said the discussions Monday are not about an "EU army" as such, but about "a European Union security and defense that becomes more credible than it is today, more effective than it is today."

Noting EU defense activities already in place supporting anti-smuggling operations and U.N. peacekeeping, she said, "We have a lot of potential that we don't utilize yet. There is a need to strengthen our security profile. It's what our citizens need."

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Trump's election is "a possibility for the EU to go further. We need to enhance our capacity in defense and security."

"The EU needs to find a way to have its voice heard in the search for political solutions ... and ensure that it's not simply a conversation between Washington and Moscow, so that we can have the EU really at the table," he said.

Perhaps the European's most pressing problem is to understand how Trump wants to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The EU has imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and destabilizing role elsewhere in Ukraine. Any signal from Trump about a warming of U.S. relations with Russia is likely to embolden already-reluctant countries like Germany, Italy and others to push for an end to the sanctions regime, diplomats said.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson insisted Monday that Trump's presidency could be a "moment of opportunity" for Europe.

Johnson, who championed Britain's exit from the EU and skipped Sunday night's foreign ministers meeting, said Trump "is a deal maker and I think that could be a good thing for Britain, but it can also a good thing for Europe. I think that's what we need to focus on today."

Others EU diplomats said they should focus instead on problems closer to home, such as the refugee emergency and economic issues.

NATO's secretary-general appealed Sunday for trans-Atlantic unity and warned that "going it alone" wasn't an option for either Europe or the U.S.

"We face the greatest challenges to our security in a generation. This is no time to question the value of the partnership between Europe and the United States," Jens Stoltenberg wrote in Britain's Observer newspaper.

(KA)