Merkel leads EU revolt on Trump's Muslim ban
By Eszter Zalan
Several European leaders have rejected US president Donald Trump's anti-Muslim travel ban amid concern over his commitment to transatlantic values.
The ban, on refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, saw European capitals scramble to determine how it would effect their dual nationality citizens.
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In a sign of increasingly strained relations with the new US administration, German chancellor Angela Merkel told Trump that his war on terrorism was not a fit reason to renege on the 1951 Geneva Convention, which requires signatories to help people fleeing from conflict.
Merkel’s spokesperson Steffen Seibert said she spoke with Trump by phone for 45 minutes on Saturday.
"She is convinced that even the necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify putting people of a specific background or faith under general suspicion," Seibert said.
German-US relations under Trump already got off to a rough start when he earlier called Merkel's more open refugee policy a "catastrophic mistake".
The German and Dutch foreign ministers also issued a joint statement on Sunday saying they were in contact with US authorities to find out what the executive order meant for their citizens.
"We are determined to protect the rights of our citizens and will take rapid action within the European Union about the steps that are now needed," Germany's Sigmar Gabriel and his Dutch counterpart, Bert Koenders, said.
UK prime minister Theresa May's spokesperson on Sunday said that the PM did "not agree" with Trump's order and would stand up to Trump if it negatively affected British citizens.
May was criticised over the weekend for her docile approach to Trump after she told press in Turkey that the ban was an internal matter for the US administration.
British foreign minister Boris Johnson, who on Sunday said it was "divisive and wrong to stigmatise [people] because of [their] nationality", was also seeking clarification from US officials what the executive order meant for UK citizens.
The foreign ministers of Sweden, Denmark and Finland likewise condemned Trump’s blanket ban.
'Pillars of Europe'
Other leaders expressed concern over the US president’s undermining of transatlantic values.
Italy's prime minister Paolo Gentilioni said on Sunday in a Twitter post, without mentioning Trump directly, that: "Italy is anchored in its values. Open society, pluralism, no discrimination. They are the pillars of Europe."
Italy is one of the main point of entry for migrants and refugees into Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
France's president Francois Hollande said on Saturday that "when he [Trump] adopts protectionist measures, which could destabilise economies not just in Europe but the economies of the main countries of the world, we have to respond".
“When he refuses the arrival of refugees, while Europe has done its duty, we have to respond," he said.
"The talk we hear coming from the US encourages populism and even extremism," Hollande added.
European Parliament liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "Trump's #MuslimBan goes against the West's values and human rights. We must not be complacent."
Euroscpetics welcomed the move, however.
Nigel Farage, a British MEP who spearheaded the Brexit campaign, said Trump was fully entitled to order the ban which was designed to fight the jihadist group Isis.
"Trump must not take advice on how to deal with terrorism from France and Germany," Farage tweeted on Sunday.
The Dutch Freedom Party's leader, Geert Wilders, congratulated Trump on the move, tweeting: "Well done @POTUS [Trump] it's the only way to stay safe + free. I would do the same. Hope you'll add more Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia soon."
Trump has caused astonishment in Europe by predicting that other states will follow the UK out of the EU and by saying that Nato was “obsolete”.
He has also indicated that he might give Russia a free hand in Ukraine in return for cooperation on nuclear disarmament and counter-terrorism.
Britain’s May, who met Trump in Washington on Friday, said US and EU sanctions on Russia should stay in place until it stopped waging war in line with a ceasefire pact signed in Minsk.
“We believe the sanctions should continue until we see that Minsk agreement full implemented and we’ve been continuing to argue that inside the European Union,” she said.
She also said Trump had voiced his “unshakeable commitment” to Nato and that he was “100 percent behind” the military alliance.
Trump spoke with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Saturday.
Their talks “touched upon the main aspects of the Ukrainian crisis” and Trump “stressed the importance of rebuilding mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between the two counties’ business communities”, a Kremlin statement said.