, HANOVER, Germany, Apr 25 – US President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea for European unity in the face of rising populism and scepticism Monday, warning this was a “defining moment” for the continent.
“A strong and united Europe is a necessity for the world,” Obama said in the German city of Hanover, in a landmark speech that carried the tone of a blunt challenge to friends.
- On a visit to Britain ahead of his arrival in Germany, the US president had also waded into an increasingly-bitter debate over the UK's membership in the European Union, urging Britons to vote against leaving the bloc in a June referendum.
- For much of Obama's seven years in the White House his relationship with Europe has been uneasy.
- Obama began his presidency with Europeans revelling in Washington's more relaxed approach to foreign policy than under his predecessor George W. Bush
Visiting a region reeling from a migration crisis, economic stagnation and facing the prospect of Britain abandoning the European Union, Obama warned that “progress is not inevitable”.
Contrasting the prosperity of Europe today with the wars and hardship of the last century, Obama called on Europeans reject the “us-versus-them” politics that has fuelled the rise of the far right in countries from Poland to France.
“Perhaps you need an outsider, somebody who is not European, to remind you of the magnitude of what you have achieved,” he said, a day after the anti-immigration far-right triumphed in a presidential vote in Austria.
– Don’t turn inward –
Hours before he and Chancellor Angela Merkel were to hold talks with the leaders of Britain, France and Italy, Obama painted today’s Europeans as heirs to the popular movements that ended the Cold War.
And he also recalled the devastating consequences of “intolerance and extreme nationalism” that drenched Europe in blood during the 20th century.
“In the last century, just twice in 30 years, the forces of empire and intolerance and extreme nationalism consumed this continent and cities like this one were largely reduced to rubble,” Obama said.