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EghtesadOnline: European governments called for cool heads and tighter unity as they reacted with shock to President-elect Donald Trump’s remarks slamming NATO and predicting European Union nations would follow the U.K. out of the bloc.

Trump’s comments, which call into question the depth of continued U.S. support for free trade and European defense, sent shock-waves around the EU at a time when governments are already battling to deal with the rise of nationalism, Brexit and a belligerent Russia.

“If the Europeans want to be protagonists, and not just spectators, they have to work closer together and accelerate on a common security and defense policy,” Sandro Gozi, Italy’s junior minister for European Affairs, said in an interview. “I don’t share his prediction that there are other Brexit-type departures from the EU on the horizon.”

In interviews with the Times of London and Germany’s Bild published late on Sunday, Trump said leaving the 28-nation EU would be good for Britain, suggested that he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia and described the 67 year-old North Atlantic Treaty Organization as obsolete, Bloomberg reported.

‘Hostile Organization’

The remarks suggest the president-elect’s stance toward Europe is crystallizing with little regard for the basic tenets of the post-World War II trans-Atlantic relationship. One reason European governments should be concerned is “because he essentially describes the EU as a plot to damage U.S. trade interests and a hostile organization,” said Jan Techau, head of the Richard C. Holbrooke Forum at the American Academy in Berlin.

“If he means what he said, then he’ll probably try to undermine it even further,” Techau said by phone. “Europe should get used to this new strategic reality.”

Trump’s position contrasts with that of outgoing President Barack Obama, who lent his support to the EU’s sanctions against Russia as well as to its open borders policy, and who said Britain would be “at the back of the queue” for any trade accord with the U.S.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose refugee policy was described by Trump in the interview as “catastrophic,” pushed back against the criticism without delving into policy, saying she’d wouldn’t comment on his agenda before his inauguration on Friday. “He has now set out his positions once again, but they’ve been known for a while,” Merkel said in Berlin. “My positions are also known.”

Return to Nationalism

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault gave a more direct rebuttal, saying that governments should remain committed to multilateralism “and not return to nationalism and to everyone out for themselves.”

“The best way to defend Europe -- and this is Mr. Trump’s invitation -- is to remain united, to stand together, not to forget that the strength of Europeans is their unity,” Ayrault told reporters in Brussels at the start of a meeting of the EU’s foreign ministers.

In the interviews, Trump promised the U.K. a quick trade agreement and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade. For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together.

French National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who caused a flurry in New York last week when she took time out from France’s presidential race to visit Trump Tower, praised his comments signaling “economic patriotism.”

‘Astonishment’

In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said his only response to the interview was that “we have read this interview with interest.”

Trump’s comments, as well as reports that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is prepared to lead Britain out of the EU’s single market, saw the euro and pound decline. Sterling fell below $1.20 for the first time since October.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is absolutely confident that the incoming U.S. administration will remain committed to NATO,” the alliance’s spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in an e-mailed statement.

Despite the calls for a measured response, Trump’s remarks are causing “astonishment” and “agitation” across the EU and concern at NATO headquarters, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters.

“The most important thing is that we play it cool at the moment and wait for them to actually start working,” Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said before the Brussels meeting. “We have to wait and move away from Twitter diplomacy to real politics.”

Brexit NATO Donald Trump US-EU relationship EU Unity