Europe can't count on US protection any more: Merkel

French President Emmanuel Macron, who received the prestigious Charlemagne Prize for strengthening European integration, on stage with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the ceremony in Aachen, Germany, yesterday.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who received the prestigious Charlemagne Prize for strengthening European integration, on stage with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the ceremony in Aachen, Germany, yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

AACHEN (Germany) • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe can no longer count on the United States for military protection and must "take its destiny into its own hands".

Dr Merkel's comments yesterday reprise a theme she first sounded last year in response to US President Donald Trump's "America First" foreign policy and his hectoring of European Nato allies for allegedly spending too little on defence. It is her latest retort to Mr Trump, who this week withdrew the US from a nuclear accord with Iran that European powers say they will uphold.

"It's no longer the case that the United States will simply just protect us," Dr Merkel said to applause in a speech honouring French President Emmanuel Macron, who received the prestigious Charlemagne Prize for strengthening European integration at a ceremony in Aachen, Germany.

"Rather, Europe needs to take its fate into its own hands. That's the task for the future."

Many major global conflicts are happening "at Europe's doorstep", said Dr Merkel, who expressed concern about the risk of war between Israel and Iran over Syria.

While European Union countries have made progress on defence cooperation, the effort remains "in its infancy," she said.

"And it will be existentially necessary to make progress here because the nature of the conflicts has completely changed since the end of the Cold War."

Expectations of a regional flare-up were stoked by Mr Trump's announcement on Tuesday that he was withdrawing the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

The Trump administration portrayed its rejection of that agreement as a response, in part, to Teheran's military interventions in the Middle East, underpinning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's tough line towards Iran.

Israel said yesterday it attacked nearly all of Iran's military infrastructure in Syria after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time.

Dr Merkel called for restraint from both countries. "The escalations of the past few hours show us that it is truly about war and peace. And I can only call on all sides to exercise restraint here."

Mr Macron echoed the call for Europe to stand united and show greater strength, at a time when the US is going its own way in ditching the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, as well as threatening allies with punitive trade tariffs.

"If we accept that other major powers, including allies... put themselves in a situation to decide our diplomacy, security for us, and sometimes even make us run the worst risks, then we are not more sovereign and we cannot be more credible to public opinion," Mr Macron said, in a clear attack against Mr Trump's decision on Iran.

"We must succeed in building our own sovereignty, which in this region, will be the guarantor of stability," said the French President.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2018, with the headline 'Europe can't count on US protection any more: Merkel'. Print Edition | Subscribe