VALLETTA, Malta — European Union leaders on Friday sought a common stand on U.S. President Donald Trump, now that they increasingly fear that campaign rhetoric will be turned into policy and further tear their troubled bloc apart.
At a summit in Malta, several of the 28 leaders highlighted the fundamental gap between the EU position and how Trump wants to plug migration and refugee flows from certain mostly Muslim nations, one of many potential flashpoints undermining trans-Atlantic relations.
French President Francois Hollande said it was unacceptable that the U.S. president could put pressure on the EU through his declarations.
And Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite pointed out that it was almost impossible to build a bridge with Trump because "today we're communicating with the United States mainly on Twitter."
EU Council President Donald Tusk already moved the U.S. into a "threat" category for the EU in the run-up to the summit, following several negative comments about the bloc.
For France and Germany, there is only one solution to facing an unpredictable partner.
"Many countries have to realize that their future is first in the European Union, rather than who knows what bilateral relation with the United States," said Hollande upon arrival at the summit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that "the more strongly we are clear about how we define our role in the world, the better we can tend our trans-Atlantic relations."
It didn't take away any of the worries which have been increasing by the day since Trump took office on Jan. 20.
Even though he has called Hollande and Tusk and hosted British Prime Minister Theresa May, Europe keeps searching for how to get a grip on Trump.
"Who know what the president of the United States really wants," notably when it comes to NATO, Hollande said of the military alliance uniting most EU member nations with the United States.
Summit leader Tusk was hoping that the debriefings from May and others to EU leaders would not turn into another Trump-bashing session. On Tuesday though, Tusk himself said that Trump was contributing to the "highly unpredictable" outlook for the bloc with a slew of "worrying declarations."
The message had seeped through the ranks of the member states. "Trump must be judged by his actions and not by his rhetoric and his election campaign. But now he has delivered enough actions that are worrying," Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said.
His Luxembourg counterpart Xavier Bettel added that "What happened the last days are really not the values I'm fighting for."