Brussels (AFP) – US President Donald Trump will meet the EU’s top officials on May 25, raising hopes that he will mend fences with a bloc that he bitterly criticised four months earlier.
Trump will meet European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels on the same day he attends a NATO summit, also in the Belgian capital.
The meetings will be part of Trump’s first foreign tour since taking office in January, with stops also in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and a G7 summit in Sicily, Italy.
The visit with Tusk and Juncker is a victory of sorts for the EU, which had worked behind the scenes to secure a meeting with Trump, to whom Brussels has had little access.
The visit was confirmed in a tweet by Tusk spokesman Preben Aamann a day after a White House spokesman made mention of it in Washington, adding that Trump would also meet with Belgian officials.
In the heat of the US election campaign last year, Trump rankled European leaders by predicting that other countries “will leave” the EU after Britain voted to do so in June.
Juncker quipped in response that he was ready to encourage independence movements by states in the US if Trump failed to tone down his Brexit support.
And on January 16 — while he was president-elect — Trump called the EU a “vehicle for Germany.”
“Look, the EU was formed, partially, to beat the United States on trade, OK? So, I don’t really care whether it’s separate or together, to me it doesn’t matter,” Trump said in an interview with The Times and Bild.
- ‘Act together’ –
But once president, Trump warmed up to the European bloc, which describes itself as a bastion against the nationalistic rivalries that so often tore Europe apart.
“Yes, a strong Europe is very, very important to me as president of the United States,” Trump said last month after a meeting with Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
The US president told the Financial Times newspaper he thought the European Union was “getting their act together” — though he maintained Brexit would be “really, really good” for the EU and for Britain.
Divisions remained apparent however during a March meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the EU’s most powerful national leader.
Trump and Merkel found little common ground as they touched on a host of thorny issues including NATO, defense spending and free trade deals.
Top of the agenda in the meeting with Tusk and Juncker will certainly be the fate of a US-EU free trade deal after negotiations were suspended when Trump took office in January.
Most Europeans have assumed that Trump would kill efforts towards the so-called TTIP deal in the same way he quashed the similar TPP accord with Asia.
But in March the US envoy to the EU said the talks were still alive, without providing further detail.
With his visit, the former business tycoon comes to a city he described in January 2016 as a “hellhole” due to the city’s high Muslim immigrant population.
<figure><figcaption>US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base on May 4, 2017 <span>Copyright AFP Brendan Smialowski</span> </figcaption></figure>