Macron says Brexit cannot divide EU and questions Trump

French president says forging close relationship with UK secondary to EU unity

President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said preserving European Union unity was more important than forging a close relationship with post-Brexit Britain, and hit out at what he called US president Donald Trump's "aggressive" isolationism.

As pressure mounts on prime minister Theresa May to agree terms for Britain's divorce from the EU and the shape of their future trade relationship, Mr Macron showed no sign of breaking ranks with other EU capitals.

"France wants to maintain a strong, special relationship with London but not if the cost is the European Union's unravelling," he told a gathering of French ambassadors.

Brexit, Mr Macron said, “is a sovereign choice, which we must respect, but it can’t come at the expense of the European Union’s integrity”.


Mr Macron did not announce any major shifts in foreign policy in the annual address to his ambassadors, but spoke forcefully about what he labelled the “crisis of multilateralism” and the need to make Europe more “sovereign”.

He urged Europe to exert itself as “a trade and economic power” that defends its strategic interests and financial independence and is able to fend off the extraterritorial reach of US sanctions.

Mr Macron also pressed the need for EU member states to show more solidarity. "Italy is against the Europe which shows no solidarity on migration, but it is for the Europe of structural funds, or so it seems when I hear some ministers speak," Mr Macron said.

“What is happening in Italy is our political doing: an absence of solidarity. Does that excuse xenophobic rhetoric? I don’t think so,” he added.

The Trump test

In his first year Mr Macron banked on nurturing relationships with leaders such as Mr Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin, appearing engaged on the world stage but often remaining non-committal and trying to mediate without unsettling anyone.

That approach has been tested after Mr Trump shunned Mr Macron and other allies, pulling out of the Paris global climate pact, imposing extraterritorial sanctions on Iran, and imposing tariffs on EU steel and aluminium.

“Multilateralism is going through a major crisis which collides with all our diplomatic activity, above all because of US policy,” he said.

"The partner with whom Europe built the new post-World War order appears to be turning its back on this shared history," he said. "Europe can no longer rely entirely on the United States for its security."

Mr Macron also touched on conflicts in the Middle East. He described the situation in Syria as "alarming" and reaching a "moment of truth", and reiterated his call for broadened talks on Iran's nuclear activity.

On Libya, Mr Macron expressed determination to see through a plan for elections to be held in December. – Reuters