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Merkel welcomes May's ambition for a strong Europe

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 16:35Fri, 02/03/2017 - 17:35
Theresa May is holding talks with EU Nato members as she attempts to build alliances ahead of Brexit.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has welcomed Theresa May's remarks that Britain wants to see a strong Europe - even as it prepares to quit the EU.
The prime minister arrived in the Maltese capital Valletta with a message that Europe must increase its defence spending, following her talks about the future of Nato with Donald Trump.
The prime minister told EU leaders she wanted to build a "strong partnership" with the EU and pledged the UK would be a "good friend and ally" post-Brexit.
The UK is one of the few alliance members to meet pledges to spend a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence.
But Mrs May was forced to defend her decision to seek a close relationship with US President Donald Trump.
Mrs May is also pledging a further £30m to help with the EU migrant crisis.
EU leaders have voiced concern over his perceived hostility towards the union.
The UK will provide medical care, temporary shelter and legal support to 60,000 refugees in Greece, Egypt and across the Balkans, while helping to reunite up to 22,000 people with their families.
Mrs May used a summit of EU Nato leaders in the Maltese capital of Valletta to build alliances ahead of Brexit and to brief her counterparts about her recent visit to the White House to meet Mr Trump.
As well as assisting those who want to return home, the UK is offering to work with countries in Asia and Latin America that are willing to welcome refugees but do not have adequate infrastructure in place at present.
She pledged a further £30m to help with the EU migrant crisis, with the UK providing medical care, temporary shelter and legal support to 60,000 refugees in Greece, Egypt and across the Balkans, while helping to reunite up to 22,000 people with their families.
The prime minister used talks with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and Austria's Christian Kern to promise the UK will remain a "reliable partner" after Brexit.
As well as assisting those who want to return home, the UK is offering to work with countries in Asia and Latin America that are willing to welcome refugees but do not have adequate infrastructure in place at present.
Downing Street said Mrs May also updated them on the UK's preparations for leaving the EU and her desire for "a strong partnership with the EU in the future".
While Mrs May did not have a formal bilateral meeting with Mrs Merkel, the two leaders did have a "lengthy discussion" during a walk through Valletta ahead of a working lunch.
  
The German chancellor told reporters afterwards: "I am pleased that Theresa May says that she wants a strong Europe.
  
"It's up to us, as the 27, to determine how strong and how good and how rigorous Europe is and how we solve our problems - and Germany wants to do its part on that."
  
During talks with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and Austria's Christian Kern, Mrs May promised that the UK would remain a "reliable partner" after Brexit.
She was expected to have an informal "brush by" with Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, who told the BBC's World Service that while he wants a "fair deal" for the UK after Brexit, it must be "inferior" to full EU membership.
Malta's prime minister Joseph Muscat said while he wants a "fair deal" for the UK after Brexit, it must be "inferior" to full EU membership.
"No one wants the UK economy to suffer, I think this is a lose-lose situation," said Mr Muscat, whose country holds the rotating European Council presidency.
Mrs May also used the summit to add her weight to President Trump's call for European Nato members to meet the target of spending a minimun of 2% of GDP on defence - a mark the UK is one of the few alliance members to meet.
While he says he expects a transitional deal for Britain will be agreed quite easily, he stressed: "Now, in my book if you're not part of the single market, that is an inferior deal. But maybe for the British government if you're not part of the single market but get to control your borders that's a superior deal."
Nato estimates for 2016 show the US, Greece, Poland and Estonia are the only other countries who will fulfil the requirements.
Mrs May was the first foreign leader to visit the Trump White House and she is using the European Council summit to tell Nato members they need to increase their spending on defence.
The BBC's deputy political editor John Pienaar says it was a tough ask for many European countries, because it would mean doubling their defence expenditure.
Mr Trump had previously called the transatlantic alliance "obsolete", but as part of efforts to build a bridge between Washington and Europe, Mrs May is saying his commitment to her about being "100% behind Nato" underlines the importance of defence and security cooperation.
And European leaders have expressed concern about Mr Trump's comments about the EU and the US ban on refugees and visa holders from a number of mainly Muslim countries.
Nato estimates for 2016 show that only five alliance members - the US, UK, Greece, Poland and Estonia - will spend a minimum of 2% of national output (GDP) on defence, which is the target.
They are also anxious about the man tipped to be Mr Trump's EU ambassador, Ted Malloch, who has suggested the union needed to be "tamed".
The BBC's deputy political editor John Pienaar says it was a tough ask for many European countries as it would mean doubling their defence expenditure.
As part of efforts to build a bridge between Washington and Europe, Mrs May said the president's commitment to her about being "100% behind Nato" underlines the importance of defence and security co-operation.
While close trade and strategic ties with the Trump administration are central to Downing Street's plans for Britain after Brexit, relations between the White House and European leaders are already strained, after the US ban on refugees and visa holders from a number of mainly Muslim countries.
But Mr Muscat, whose country holds the rotating European Council presidency, said while there were concerns about some of the decisions that are being taken by the new US administration "there was no sense of anti-Americanism" among the 28 EU members.
EU leaders have also expressed concern about the man tipped to be Donald Trump's EU ambassador, Ted Malloch, who has suggested the union needed to be "tamed".
"There was a sense that we need to engage with the United States just the same, but that we need to show that we cannot stay silent where there are principles involved," he said.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said while he did not feel threatened by Mr Trump "there is room for explanations because of the impression the new administration does not know the EU in detail but in Europe details matter".
"As in any good relationship, we will speak very clearly where we think that those principles are being trampled on."
  
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said while he did not feel threatened by Mr Trump "there is room for explanations because of the impression the new administration does not know the EU in detail - but in Europe details matter".
"It's not a threat, it could be a catalyst for a strong, more united Europe. It is an alarm call to see if we are on the right track."
"It's not a threat, it could be a catalyst for a strong, more united Europe. It is an alarm call to see if we are on the right track."
France's President Francois Hollande stressed the need for a united European position on Mr Trump but German chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe had "its destiny in its own hands" and should focus on its own future.
  
Meanwhile, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite appeared to cast doubt on the UK's ambition of being a bridge between the US and Europe.
  
"There is no necessity of bridges," she told reporters. "Because today we mainly communicate with the US on Twitter."
  
Mrs May is expected to depart from Valletta after morning discussions, leaving the remaining EU leaders to discuss plans for a summit in Rome in March and the future of the EU.