Thursday

20th Feb 2020

Tusk and Putin clash on liberal values in Japan

  • EU Council president Donald Tusk (centre on left hand side) at the G20 meeting in Osaka on Thursday (Photo: consilium.eu)

The EU will continue to defend liberal values, it pledged at the "G20" summit of wealthy nations in Japan - after Russia said liberalism was dying.

"Thanks to my jetlag I was able to read the whole interview with [Russian] president [Vladimir] Putin in the Financial Times [a British newspaper] ... I strongly disagree with the main argument - that liberalism is obsolete," EU Council president Donald Tusk told press in Osaka, Japan, on Thursday (28 June).

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"Whoever claims that liberal democracy is obsolete, also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete," Tusk said.

"For us in Europe, these are and will remain essential and vibrant values. What I find really obsolete are: authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs," he added, in a swipe at Putin's own brand of power.

The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said, in a more humourous putdown, that he could not be bothered to read Putin's remarks.

"I also had jetlag, but this was not a sufficient reason to read the interview," he said.

Speaking in the British newspaper earlier the same day, Putin said: "The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population".

He attacked EU hosting of Arab and African migrants, singling out German chancellor Angela Merkel, and claimed that "migrants can kill, plunder, and rape with impunity [in the EU]".

He attacked the EU's pro-LGBTI views, saying: "Traditional values are more stable and more important for millions of people than this liberal idea, which, in my opinion, is really ceasing to exist".

He also made fun of UK accusations that he ordered the assassination of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, in England last year.

"This spy story ... it is not worth five kopecks," Putin said.

"Russia and the UK are interested in fully restoring our relations", he added, referring to a bilateral meeting with outgoing British prime minister Theresa May at the G20 event.

The anti-migrant, anti-LGBTI, and Russia face-saving lines were all hackneyed themes of Russian anti-EU propaganda.

And May joined Tusk and Juncker in their pushback.

The May-Putin meeting would "not represent a normalisation of relations", her spokesman told US broadcaster CNN on Wednesday.

May would instead "deliver the message" that Russia must "desist" from "malign behaviour" that "undermines international treaties and our collective security", the spokesman added.

Trade, Iran, and climate

The EU delegation, which also included the Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish leaders, had free-trade, Iran nuclear arms control, and climate change on its Japan to-do list.

All 28 EU states said in an open letter on Wednesday they wanted to reform the World Trade Organisation in Geneva to curb unfair foreign subsidies and intellectual property theft by countries like China.

"International trade and investment are important engines of job creation, growth, development, productivity and innovation," they said, while promising to "de-escalate trade tensions" between the US and its trade partners, including Europe.

Juncker noted that his commission had signed 14 new free-trade treaties, bringing the number that the EU had in place to 72.

He alluded to Trump's earlier imposition of tariffs on EU and Chinese exports, saying "others" had "created trade tensions".

Tusk repeated the EU's commitment to a nuclear non-proliferation deal with Iran despite the US having walked out of the treaty last year.

He also called for "maximum restraint" to "avoid accidental escalation" after the US nearly launched air strikes last week.

The G20 joint communique must be "strong" on climate and Europe must "continue to lead the way" on fighting climate change, even though Trump had also walked away from a global CO2 emissions deal, Juncker added.

For their part, Putin and Trump held a brief photo session in which Trump joked about Russian meddling in US elections.

Trump came to the G20 after having once again mauled US allies, the EU and Germany, on trade barriers and on defence underspending.

White smoke

The Osaka meeting comes amid the host nation's controversial decision to resume commercial whaling.

It also comes after a member of the Brazilian leader's entourage was caught trying to smuggle cocaine and amid concern for German chancellor Angela Merkel's health after two recent press events in which she struggled to stop herself from shaking.

The EU-28 leaders will meet in Brussels later on Sunday to discuss who should take up Europe's top jobs.

But Tusk played down the importance of G20 backroom talks.

"Don't expect white smoke here in Osaka," he said, referring to a smoke sign used by the Vatican when it elects a new pope.

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