Monday

21st Jan 2019

Interview

Trump did not misspeak on EU, says commission VP

  • Maros Sefcovic in Washington in June (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Donald Trump's anti-EU jibes were not slips of the tongue, but signs of a "conflictual" new era in world affairs, a Slovak politician who would lead Europe has said.

"The words are harmful. If it was a kind of slip of the tongue it would be OK. Anybody can make a mistake, but here we see it's a consistent approach of being harsh on the European Union," Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, told EUobserver on Wednesday (18 July).

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  • Sefcovic with Germany's Peter Altmeier in Berlin on Tuesday (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

"One reason is [Trump's] dislike of the [EU] institutions and the European Union, but [another] one is to weaken what's become a very strong economy [the EU], a very strong political and global player," he said.

Sefcovic spoke after Trump, the US president, called Europe, America's oldest ally, a "foe" last week.

Trump has also started a trade war with the EU, threatened to quit Nato, and berated Germany over its "horrible" plan to build a gas pipeline with Russia.

He is wont to reverse what he previously said or to claim that he misspoke, as he did on Russia's US election meddling at a summit in Helsinki on Monday.

But for Sefcovic the EU-bashing was a systematic attack.

"I'm very unhappy with what's happening … it's not good for us, not good for the Americans, not good for global stability," he said.

Sefcovic addressed Trump amid his own ambition to become the next commission president, the most powerful job in the EU.

The 51-year old ex-diplomat, who has worked as an EU commissioner for nine years, hopes to get there as the top candidate of the centre-left bloc in European Parliament elections in 2019.

The transatlantic clash was part of a wider shifting of power on the world stage, he said.

Europe ought to ask itself, he said: "Will this century be American or Chinese? Are we in a position to be in a strategic balance with Russia? And can we rely more on ourselves, which I think is an absolute necessity?".

President Sefcovic?

A Sefcovic commission would make the EU into an industrial powerhouse, he said.

It would also be strong on values, he added.

"When I meet people outside the EU, what I hear is that we need a strong Europe, that you're responsible when it comes to climate change, you're fair to the developing world, you support a rules-based international system, that you represent a beacon of fairness," Sefcovic said.

EU industrial policy should give Europe "geostrategic independence in high-technologies", he said.

"Megatrend" sectors, such as electric cars, robotics, and supercomputers needed help to compete with US and Chinese "state-sponsored giants" who "don't always treat us fairly", Sefcovic said.

Permitting state aid for strategic sectors and curbing technology transfer to China could give Europe an edge, he added.

Speaking out

The Slovak commissioner looked to Donald Tusk, a former Polish PM who now chairs EU summits, as a model of conduct on European affairs.

"He [Tusk] is very much respected. He's a very bold politician who speaks his mind," Sefcovic said.

Sefcovic also spoke out on Trump's attack on Germany and its Russia gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2 (NS2).

The US should not usurp EU energy policy by imposing fines on European investors in the project, he said.

"We're capable of taking our own decisions in Europe and we definitely wouldn't like it if our ally targeted companies from the EU," the Slovak commissioner, who is currently in charge of EU energy affairs, said.

"It adds a conflictual approach to EU-US relations," he added.

The pipeline is seen as a threat by central European and Nordic countries, who say it will allow Russia to cut gas supplies to Western allies, such as Ukraine, at a time of geopolitical tension.

Russian muscle

Sefcovic has, despite his remarks, also fought to enforce EU law on NS2 in order to soften Russia's energy muscle.

"I've never seen a pipeline debated so hotly at the highest political levels whether here in the EU Council, or in EU-US forums," he told EUobserver.

But German economy minister Peter Altmeier and Russian energy chief Alexander Novak promised to uphold Ukraine gas supplies when Sefcovic met them in Berlin on Tuesday, he said.

"We've moved on from that very disturbing possibility that they would just close down what's currently the most important route of Russian gas to Europe," he said.

"Yesterday, at lunch with Mr Altmeier, he was very clear and forceful on how gas transit through Ukraine was of strategic importance for Europe," Sefcovic said.

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