Trump policies unite allies against him at European security forum

Former US Vice President Joe Biden gives a speech at the 55th Munich Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, on February 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2019
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Trump policies unite allies against him at European security forum

  • “America will be back” once Donald Trump leaves office, Biden won a standing ovation at the Munich Security Conference

MUNICH: In 2009, then-US Vice President Joe Biden came to Munich to “press the reset button” with Russia. A decade later he came again to offer the world better relations, this time with his own country.
Promising that “America will be back” once Donald Trump leaves office, Biden won a standing ovation at the Munich Security Conference from delegates who find the president’s brusque foreign policy stance hard to like.
But their elation also exposed the weakened state of Western diplomacy in the face of Trump’s assertiveness, according to European diplomats and politicians who were present.
Biden’s successor, Mike Pence, was met with silence at a reception in the palatial Bavarian Parliament on Friday evening after he delivered his signature line: “I bring you greetings from the 45th president of the United States, President Donald Trump.”
His four-day trip to Europe succeeded only in deepening divisions with traditional allies over questions such as Iran and Venezuela and offered little hope in how to deal with threats ranging from nuclear arms to climate change, diplomats and officials said.
Misgivings about Washington’s role in the world are being felt by ordinary people as well as foreign policy specialists.
In Germany and France, half the population see US power as a threat, up sharply from 2013 and a view shared by 37 percent of Britons, the Washington-based Pew Research Center said in a report before the Munich foreign policy gathering.
Asked about European anxiety over Trump’s leadership style, a senior US official on Pence’s Air Force Two plane said the vice president’s Munich conference speech on Saturday at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof would “help give them a different perspective.”
But if the Europeans did not like the “America First” message, there was no concerted response to it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was on her own after a last-minute cancelation by French President Emmanuel Macron.
That caused some to lament the failure of the West to uphold the rules-based international order that Washington itself championed in the 70 years that preceded the arrival of Trump in the White House.
“The tit-for-tat logic is unfortunately prevailing ... I think that takes us back to the question of enlightened leadership,” said Thomas Greminger, secretary general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a security and human rights watchdog.
“We need leaders again who do not believe exclusively in short-termism,” he told Reuters.
It fell to China to aid Merkel in her defense of the post-World War Two order, as the country’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, spoke in flawless English for over 20 minutes about the virtues of open trade and global cooperation.
Pence’s message was, in fact, that the pillars of US foreign policy were being rebuilt on a different foundation: isolating Iran, containing China, bringing American troops home and requiring European powers to fall into line.
After using a speech in Warsaw on Thursday to accuse Britain, France and Germany of trying to undermine US sanctions on Iran, Pence called in Munich for the European Union to recognize Venezuelan congressional leader Juan Guaido as president over Nicolas Maduro, whom he called a dictator.
That drew an angry response from Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, who said the European Union could acknowledge Guaido as interim president until new elections, in line with the Venezuelan constitution.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves LeDrian said he was mystified by US policy on Syria after Trump’s decision to withdraw troops because it would only benefit Iran, which Washington wants to be tough on.
European diplomats and officials also took issue with Pence’s insistence that EU governments stay away from Chinese telecoms companies as they build the latest generation of mobile networks, preferring first to have an internal discussion about the potential risks and US claims of Chinese espionage.
“US pressure has a tendency to make us do the opposite. US pressure is counterproductive. It’s best that they don’t try and pressure us,” a senior French diplomat said.
Whatever the threats, officials seemed to be mainly talking past each other.
Kumi Naidoo, global head of Amnesty International, said security was often defined too narrowly, failing to address the wider dangers of climate change.
“The narrative here at the Munich Security Conference is broken. They are talking about the right topics but in the wrong language. The mentality here is that security is only a national issue,” Naidoo told Reuters.


UK govt insists suspension of Parliament was not illegal

Updated 13 min 10 sec ago

UK govt insists suspension of Parliament was not illegal

  • Government says a lower court was right to rule that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was a matter of “high policy” and politics, not law
  • Opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament

LONDON: The British government was back at the country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, arguing that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament just weeks before the country is set to leave the European Union was neither improper nor illegal.
It’s the second day of a historic three-day hearing that pits the powers of Britain’s legislature against those of its executive as the country’s scheduled Brexit date of Oct. 31 looms over its political landscape and its economy.
Government lawyer James Eadie argued that a lower court was right to rule that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was a matter of “high policy” and politics, not law. Eadie called the decision to shut down Parliament “inherently and fundamentally political in nature.”
He said if the court intervened it would violate the “fundamental constitutional principle” of the separation of powers between courts and the government.
“This is, we submit, the territory of political judgment, not legal standards,” Eadie said.
The government’s opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the 28-nation bloc for the “improper purpose” of dodging lawmakers’ scrutiny of his Brexit plans. They also accuse Johnson of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.
Johnson sent lawmakers home on Sept. 9 until Oct. 14, which is barely two weeks before Britain’s Oct. 31 departure from the EU. He claims the shutdown was a routine measure to enable his Conservative government to launch a fresh legislative agenda and was not related to Brexit.
Eadie rejected claims that the prime minister was trying to prevent lawmakers from blocking his Brexit plans.
He said “Parliament has had, and has taken, the opportunity to legislate” against the government, and would have more time between Oct. 14 and Brexit day. He said even if Parliament didn’t come back until Oct. 31, “there is time” for it to act on Brexit.
The prime minister says Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal. But many economists and UK lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing. Members of Parliament have put obstacles in Johnson’s way, including a law compelling the government to seek a delay to Brexit if it can’t get a divorce deal with the EU.
Parliament’s suspension spared Johnson further meddling by the House of Commons but sparked legal challenges, to which lower courts gave contradictory rulings. England’s High Court said the move was a political rather than legal matter but Scottish court judges ruled Johnson acted illegally “to avoid democratic scrutiny.”
The Supreme Court is being asked to decide who was right. The justices will give their judgment sometime after the hearing ends on Thursday.
A ruling against the government by the 11 Supreme Court judges could force Johnson to recall Parliament.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, meanwhile, said Wednesday that the risk of Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal remained “very real” because Britain had not produced workable alternatives to the deal agreed upon with the EU by ex-British Prime Minister Theresa May. That deal was repeatedly rejected by Britain’s Parliament, prompting May to resign and bringing Johnson to power in July.
“I asked the British prime minister to specify the alternative arrangements that he could envisage,” Juncker told the European Parliament. “As long as such proposals are not made, I cannot tell you — while looking you straight in the eye — that progress is being made.”
Juncker, who met with Johnson on Monday, told members of the EU legislature in Strasbourg, France, that a no-deal Brexit “might be the choice of the UK, but it will never be ours.”
The EU parliament on Wednesday adopted a non-binding resolution supporting another extension to the Brexit deadline if Britain requests it.
Any further delay to Britain’s exit — which has already been postponed twice — needs the approval of the 27 other EU nations.
Johnson has said he won’t delay Brexit under any circumstances — but also says he will respect the law, which orders the government to seek an extension if there is no deal by Oct. 19. He has not explained how that would be done.