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European Union leaders at Malta summit bristle at Trump remarks

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with French President Francois Hollande during a meeting of European leaders in Malta. (WPA Pool / Getty Images)
British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with French President Francois Hollande during a meeting of European leaders in Malta. (WPA Pool / Getty Images)

The European Union has been weathering plenty of disunity in recent months. But on Friday, the bloc’s leaders seemed united in concerns over President Trump.

In the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, leaders arriving for the EU’s first gathering since Trump’s inauguration had some sharp words for the 2-week-old U.S. administration.

Both before and after taking office, Trump has been vocal in his support of Britain’s vote last June to exit the European Union, and has made repeated if casual references to the likelihood of the bloc breaking up. He has also called NATO “obsolete,” but in recent days has signaled support for the transatlantic alliance.

Those remarks, though, clearly rankled. French President Francois Hollande, who spoke with Trump last weekend, was perhaps the most openly combative in his view of the U.S. leader.

“It is unacceptable that there should be -- through a certain number of statements by the president of the United States -- pressure on what Europe should or should not be,” the French news agency AFP quoted Hollande as saying as he arrived at the informal summit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a cooler and more pragmatic tone, telling reporters as she arrived: “I have already said that Europe has its destiny in its own hands.”

She said that as far as she was concerned, “talks about Europe are here in the foreground and not to deal with other parts of the world.”

Germany has been unhappy, however, with Trump’s talk of the European common currency, the euro, being artificially undervalued, and his suggestions that Merkel’s government was to blame.

Heading into the meeting, EU President Donald Tusk had taken the unprecedented step of warning in a letter to European leaders that Trump posed a “threat” to the bloc, listing that alongside other menaces including Russian aggression, jihadist attacks and a wave of populism.

The gathering was a potentially awkward one for British Prime Minister Theresa May as she moves to implement so-called “Brexit.” May met with Trump last week and pressed European concerns about the degree of American support for NATO.

But May’s offer to serve as a “bridge” between Trump and the EU drew a tart response from the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite – who also took a swipe at the U.S. president.

“I don’t think there is a necessity for a ‘bridge,’” she told the BBC. “We communicate with the Americans on Twitter.”

The main goal of the Malta gathering is to take steps to forge a common policy on immigration – another point of contention between Trump and the EU. Many of the European leaders have been highly critical of Trump’s suspension of the U.S. refugee program and his temporary ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

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