BRUSSELS: US President Donald Trump met the European Union’s top officials on Thursday in a bid to mend ties with a bloc he deeply alarmed by backing Brexit.
Trump arrived for his first ever talks with EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, who will argue for the benefits of open trade and the Paris climate agreement.
The meeting took place at the EU’s new “Europa” headquarters in Brussels on the same day Trump attends a NATO summit, also in the Belgian capital.
Trump is also meeting with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini.
The visit with Tusk and Juncker is a victory of sorts for the EU, which had worked behind the scenes to secure a first encounter with Trump.
Tusk, who coordinates common policy for the EU’s 28 leaders, had until now only held a congratulatory phone call with the US president in November.
“At that time the questions were on Brexit,” and on the survival of the EU, a senior European official said on condition of anonymity.
But since election victories by pro-EU candidates in France and the Netherlands “we are in a completely different place,” the official added.
In the heat of the US election campaign last year, Trump rankled European leaders by predicting that other countries “will leave” the EU after Britain voted to do so in June.
Juncker quipped in response that he was ready to encourage independence movements by states in the US if Trump failed to tone down his Brexit support.
And on January 16—while he was president-elect—Trump called the EU a “vehicle for Germany,” the bloc’s economic powerhouse.
But once president, Trump appeared to warm to the European bloc, which describes itself as a bastion against the nationalistic rivalries that so often tore Europe apart.
The US president told the Financial Times newspaper he thought the European Union was “getting their act together”—though he maintained Brexit would be “really, really good” for the EU and for Britain. AFP