Top EU diplomats called Monday for more robust European defense and a greater European voice in world affairs as Donald Trump — whose isolationist, protectionist promises have worried many in Europe — prepares to assume the U.S. presidency.
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With many question marks around Trump's foreign policy plans, EU foreign ministers agreed at talks in Brussels on the need to strengthen Europe's role in world affairs until the future of trans-Atlantic relations becomes clearer.
In a first concrete step a day after the anniversary of the deadly Paris attacks in which 130 people died last year, the ministers signed off on a sprawling new security and defense plan. But the plan is a far cry from the idea of an "EU army" with a military headquarters that was annoying some EU partners at NATO. It identifies Europe's main tasks as responding to external threats, building the security resilience of partners outside the EU and protecting the 28-nation bloc and its citizens.
"This is a qualitative leap in the European Union's security and defense," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters after the meeting. She said that work on taking it forward would begin within weeks.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said, "I think there is a realization this is a strategic moment for Europe right now. We are surrounded by autocratic, assertive or fragile countries."
"We are in an uncertain world, and it has not started with the election of Mr. Trump," said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. "But Europe must not wait for others' decisions, it must defend its own interests — that is to say the interest of Europeans — and at the same time reaffirming its strategic role on the global level."
His Belgian counterpart, Didier Reynders, said Trump's election was "a possibility for the EU to go further. We need to enhance our capacity in defense and security."
"The EU needs to find a way to have its voice heard in the search for political solutions ... and ensure that it's not simply a conversation between Washington and Moscow, so that we can have the EU really at the table," he said.
In another move Monday, the ministers reaffirmed their support for the Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump has branded the "worst deal in the world" and vowed to renegotiate. They said "the European Union reiterates its resolute commitment" to the part of the action plan that EU heavyweights Britain, France and Germany agreed upon with Iran.
The plan includes lifting "nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions and engaging with the private sector and economic operators, especially banks, to promote growth in trade and investment."
While campaigning, Trump called the pact agreed last year a "lopsided disgrace" and railed against its time-limited restrictions on Iran's enrichment of uranium and other nuclear activity. Trump's exact plans are vague, though, and renegotiating a deal Iran and other partners are happy with would be difficult.
But perhaps Europe's most pressing problem is to understand how Trump wants to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The EU has imposed sanctions on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea and destabilizing role elsewhere in Ukraine. Any signal from Trump about a warming of U.S. relations with Russia is likely to embolden already-reluctant countries like Germany, Italy and others to push for an end to the sanctions regime.
Trump and Putin spoke on Monday. In a statement issued after the call, the Kremlin said that Putin expressed readiness to establish a "partner-like" dialogue with Trump's incoming administration.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson insisted Monday that Trump's presidency could be a "moment of opportunity" for Europe.
Johnson, who championed Britain's exit from the EU and skipped Sunday night's foreign ministers meeting, said Trump "is a dealmaker and I think that could be a good thing for Britain, but it can also a good thing for Europe. I think that's what we need to focus on today."
Other EU diplomats said they should focus instead on problems closer to home, such as the refugee emergency and economic issues.
Speaking at a conference at Harvard University Pierre Moscovici, European commissioner for economic and financial affairs, said Trump's win was a "political wake-up call" that demonstrates a decline of democratic values and a rise of populist ideas in both the U.S. and Europe.
"I am a politician, as you recall, also a Social Democrat and I want to share with you my worries when I see democrats and our shared values losing ground on both sides of the Atlantic," Moscovici said.