U.S. Vice President Mike Pence held a joint press conference with European Council President Donald Tusk on Monday in which Pence affirmed United States commitment to the European Union while also raising questions as to whether the U.S. supports the European Union’s “freedom of movement.”
In the joint press conference with Tusk, Vice President Pence stated in part:
Saturday, as President Tusk said, I was pleased to address the Munich Security Council to speak about the importance of the strategic alliance [inaudible] … entered the bond so many years ago in the North American Treaty Organization. But the president did ask me to come here, to Brussels, to the home of the European Union, and deliver an additional message, so today it is my privilege on behalf of President Trump to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union. Whatever our differences, our two continents share the same marriage, 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. This has been European Union’s goal since before its formal founding in 1993. What began as a modest Western European trade agreement in 1951, freedom of movement, has grown into a commitment to the four freedoms — the freedom of movement, goods, capital, services and people, the common currency, and common approach to foreign and security policy.
Pence continued speaking of the history of the European Union (EU). He moved to speak of U.S. and EU economies and “reaffirm our commitment to a free, fair and flourishing economies that undergird our success and a cooperation in achieving that. Maintaining and strengthening our economic vitality will require hard but necessary choices.”
Pence also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to fighting terrorism, mentioned the Islamic terror bombings on Brussels that killed more than 30 people, then called on the European community to intensify efforts to fight radical Islamic terrorism alongside the United States. “This will require greater coordination and intelligence-sharing among EU member states and between the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” he said.
Speaking of Russian aggression, Pence said, “In addition to confronting terrorism together, clearly, we must stand strong in defense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nations in Europe.”
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that in the week leading up to the vice president’s meetings in Brussels and affirmation of U.S. commitment to the EU, in a conversation with a German diplomat, White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon described the EU as a flawed construct. He cited three confidential sources that had been briefed on the meeting.
The sources stated that Bannon conveyed favor for bilateral relations with Europe. One White House official claimed to Reuters a more brief version of the interaction between Bannon and German ambassador to Washington Peter Wittig than the three other sources. The three sources reportedly described Bannon’s message to the diplomat as favoring strong nationalist movements. One of the three described the White House position on the EU as not seeing an unraveling of the EU as having grave consequences.
The vice president spoke at the Munich Security Conference in the days before his visit to Brussels as part of his first trip abroad since taking office. Last week, the conference chairman, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, called on Pence to affirm during his visit that the U.S. supports the EU and was not aiming to break up the organization, according to Reuters.
Pence made the trip to the security conference on behalf of President Trump. A senior White House policy adviser previewed the trip last week, promising an overarching message of reassurance. In his speech to conference participants, he brought this promise from President Trump: “We will stand with Europe today and every day; we are bound together by the same noble ideals – freedom, democracy, justice, and the rule of law.”
At Monday’s joint press conference, Pence stated, “The United States commitment to the European Union is steadfast and enduring. President Tusk, President Trump, and I look forward to working together with you and the European Union to deepen our political and economic partnership.”
During his presidential campaign, now-President Donald Trump made clear that he supported the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union. The day after the June 23 Brexit vote, then-candidate Trump compared the vote to the upcoming presidential election in the U.S. and attributed the U.K. vote to leave the EU, and prospectively the U.S. presidential vote, in large part to people’s desire to control borders and block illegal immigration.
USA Today quoted Trump as stating, “All over the world [people are] angry. They are angry at the borders. They are angry over people coming into the country and taking over.”
In late January, European Parliament chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, who vehemently opposes Brexit, said, “We have a third front undermining the European Union, and it is Donald Trump, who has joined [the far-Right parties] from across the Atlantic. He has talked fairly favorably of other countries wanting to break away from the EU and that he hoped for disintegration from European Union,” according to the Telegraph.
In the Monday press conference, President Tusk emphasized a particular portion of his meeting with Vice President Pence, saying, “I asked the vice president directly if he shared my opinions on three key matters: the international order, security, and the attitude of the new American administration towards the European Union.” Tusk continued, “In reply to these three matters, I heard today from Vice President Pence three times ‘yes.’ After such a positive declaration, both Europeans and Americans must simply practice what they preach.”
Request for comment from the vice president on whether the State Department had a role in statements made at Monday’s joint Pence-Tusk press conference returned no comment by the time of this report.
Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana.