Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

Obama urges EU nations to stick together

  • Obama was in Hannover on the last day of his European tour (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

US president Barack Obama has urged EU nations to stick together and praised German chancellor Angela Merkel for welcoming refugees.

Speaking in Hannover, Germany, on the fourth day of a European tour, he said the economic crisis coupled with the migration crisis “have led some to question whether European integration can long endure; whether you might be better off separating off.”

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  • US leader praised Merkel for her "steady hands" in time of crisis (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

“European unity can require frustrating compromise … We understand how easy it must be to vent at Brussels and complain,” he said.

“Perhaps you need an outsider, somebody who is not European, to remind you of the magnitude of what you have achieved,” he added.

He said the US and the wider world “needs a strong and prosperous and democratic and united Europe”, which he described as “one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times.”

“Remember that every member of your union is a democracy. That's not an accident. Remember that no EU country has raised arms against another. That's not an accident … people desperately want to come here precisely because of what you've created,” he said.

Obama’s speech came shortly before the UK referendum in June on whether to leave the EU.

It came more broadly amid concern that the EU might unravel as members squabble over how to handle the huge numbers of refugees.

In a sign of the times, in Austria last weekend a far-right candidate came top in the first round of the presidential election. In Germany, Merkel’s approval rating has plunged due to her initially welcoming approach to refugees.

Obama praised her for her “steady hands” and her “moral compass.”

“Chancellor Merkel and others have eloquently reminded us that we cannot turn our backs on our fellow human beings who are here now, and need our help now,” he said.

He cited Islamist terrorism and “Russian aggression” as the greatest threats to European security.

He said he would send 250 more US special forces to Syria to help in the fight against the jihadist group Islamic State and urged EU countries to share intelligence despite people’s concerns on privacy rights.

“If we truly value our liberty, then we have to take the steps that are necessary to share information and intelligence within Europe, as well as between the United States and Europe,” he said.

“Russian aggression has flagrantly violated the sovereignty and territory of an independent European nation, Ukraine, and that unnerves our allies in Eastern Europe,” he added.

'Complacent EU'

He said he wants “good relations” with Russia. But he said that “we need to keep sanctions on Russia in place” until it stops the war in east Ukraine.

He also urged Nato countries to rely less on the US for their security needs. “I'll be honest, sometimes Europe has been complacent about its own defence,” he said.

Obama later on Tuesday met with the British, French, German and Italian leaders also in Hannover prior to going home.

He began his tour in the UK on Friday where his exhortation for the UK to stay in the EU drew howls of protest from the Brexit campaigners.

His praise of Merkel’s “moral compass” comes after she authored an EU deal with Turkey to take back migrants despite complaints of human rights abuses by leading NGOs.

Meanwhile, his tough line on Russia is not shared by everybody in Berlin.

Speaking to the Handelsblatt newspaper at the weekend, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was time to “engage in a process of rapprochement” with Russia despite it actions in Ukraine.

“The current G7 format is not an end in itself. Personally, I would favour setting out conditions - sooner rather than later - to enable a return to the G8 format,” he added, referring to Russia’s membership in the club of leading world nations.

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