Mike Pence says US commitment to EU remains strong

Vice-president says Trump administration will seek ways to bolster the relationship

US vice-president Mike Pence  with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg  after a meeting at Nato  headquarters in Brussels on Monday. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

US vice-president Mike Pence with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg after a meeting at Nato headquarters in Brussels on Monday. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

 

Mike Pence, the US vice-president, brought sceptical European leaders a message they were keen to hear when he visited Brussels on Monday, assuring them of the Trump administration’s “strong” commitment to the EU.

Donald Trump, the US president, has shaken the transatlantic alliance by backing Brexit and calling into question US support for European integration at a time when anti-EU populists are making gains in several member states.

But speaking alongside Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, following talks between the two, Mr Pence sought to reassure Europe. “Today it is my privilege on behalf of President Trump to express the strong commitment of the US to continued co-operation and partnership with the EU,” he said.

“Whatever our differences, our two continents share the same heritage, the same values and, above all, the same purpose, to promote peace and prosperity through freedom, democracy and the rule of law, and to those objectives we will remain committed.”

Mr Tusk, who described himself as an incurably pro-American European, said that the meeting with the US vice-president had been “truly needed” on both sides.

“Too much has happened over the past months in your country and in the EU; too many new, and sometimes surprising opinions have been voiced over this time about our relations – and our common security – for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be,” he said.

The former Polish prime minister said he had asked whether Mr Pence shared his opinions on the international order, security and the stance of the new US administration towards the EU. “In reply to these three matters, I heard today from vice-president Pence three times ‘yes’,” Mr Tusk said.

But he sounded a note of caution, adding: “After such a positive declaration, both Europeans and Americans must simply practise what they preach.”

‘Worrying declarations’

Mr Pence spoke of deep economic links between the US and Europe. He also called on Europe to step up the battle against “the threat of radical Islamist terrorism”, saying there should be more co-ordination and intelligence-sharing among EU member states and between the bloc and Nato.

On Russia’s role in Ukraine, he said that the US would insist that Moscow upheld the Minsk ceasefire agreements.

But he added: “While the US will continue to hold Russia accountable, at President Trump;s direction we will also search in new ways for new common ground with Russia, which President Trump believes can be found.”

Responding to a question, Mr Pence said he “fully supported” Mr Trump’s decision to seek the resignation of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who misled the vice-president on his contacts with Russia. “I was disappointed to learn that the facts that have been conveyed to me by General Flynn were inaccurate,” he said.

That Mr Pence’s message was so keenly awaited in Brussels reflects deep anxiety about Mr Trump, who has put Germany at the core of his criticism of the EU – criticising the bloc’s largest economy over its refugee policy and trade balance – and hosted Nigel Farage, a member of the European Parliament for the UK Independence party and leading light in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU.

Mr Trump’s frequent outbursts on Twitter are keenly followed in Brussels, fuelling doubts over the consistency of the message from Washington despite Mr Pence’s reassuring word.

A sense of deep uncertainty still pervades Brussels, where diplomats remain concerned at the influence of Steve Bannon, the extreme nationalist who serves as Mr Trump’s head of strategy. “We could almost not have asked for more from this meeting – but we have to wait and see ,” said an EU official.

Support for Nato

But on Monday Mr Pence, who also met European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, said he was at pains to stress the US commitment to the EU was “steadfast and enduring”.

After meeting Mr Tusk, his motorcade travelled the short distance to Mr Juncker;s office. Another EU official said that Mr Juncker had told the vice-president that his Munich speech on security had been very helpful and his remarks on the EU were exactly what was needed to reassure Europe.

“Good transatlantic relations are not only the logical consequence of history but also a necessity for the future. The world needs the US and Europe to be partners,” Mr Juncker said.

At later meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, the top civilian in Nato, Mr Pence reiterated US demands for European members of the alliance to advance a plan this year to boost defence spending, saying: “The president expects real progress by the end of 2017.”

Mr Pence said he had discussed the defence spending question with Angela Merkel, German chancellor, and that plans were in train to invite her to meet Mr Trump in the White House.

Asked about Mr Trump’s attacks on the media, Mr Pence said the Trump administration would continue “to call out the media when they play fast and loose” with the facts. “When the media gets it wrong I promise you president Trump will take his case straight to the American people to set the record straight.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017