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Exclusive: Bannon Delivered Anti-EU Message To Diplomat Before Pence Visit

BERLIN (Reuters) – In the week before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Brussels and pledged America’s “steadfast and enduring” commitment to the European Union, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon met with a German diplomat and delivered a different message, according to people familiar with the talks.

Bannon, these people said, signaled to Germany’s ambassador to Washington that he viewed the EU as a flawed construct and favored conducting relations with Europe on a bilateral basis.

Three people who were briefed on the meeting spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. The German government and the ambassador, Peter Wittig, declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of the talks.

A White House official who checked with Bannon in response to a Reuters query confirmed the meeting had taken place but said the account provided to Reuters was inaccurate. “They only spoke for about three minutes and it was just a quick hello,” the official said.

The sources described a longer meeting in which Bannon took the time to spell out his world view. They said his message was similar to the one he delivered to a Vatican conference back in 2014 when he was running the right-wing website Breitbart News.

In those remarks, delivered via Skype, Bannon spoke favorably about European populist movements and described a yearning for nationalism by people who “don’t believe in this kind of pan-European Union.”

Western Europe, he said at the time, was built on a foundation of “strong nationalist movements”, adding: “I think it’s what can see us forward”.

The encounter unsettled people in the German government, in part because some officials had been holding out hope that Bannon might temper his views once in government and offer a more nuanced message on Europe in private.

One source briefed on the meeting said it had confirmed the view that Germany and its European partners must prepare for a policy of “hostility towards the EU”.

A second source expressed concern, based on his contacts with the administration, that there was no appreciation for the EU’s role in ensuring peace and prosperity in post-war Europe.

“There appears to be no understanding in the White House that an unraveling of the EU would have grave consequences,” the source said.

The White House said there was no transcript of the conversation. The sources who had been briefed on it described it as polite and stressed there was no evidence Trump was prepared to go beyond his rhetorical attacks on the EU — he has repeatedly praised Britain’s decision to leave — and take concrete steps to destabilize the bloc.

But anxiety over the White House stance led French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, to issue unusual calls last week for Pence to affirm during his visit to Europe that the U.S. was not aiming to break up the EU.

Pence obliged on Monday in Brussels, pledging strong ties between the United States and the EU, and making clear his message was shared by the president.

“President Trump and I look forward to working together with you and the European Union to deepen our political and economic partnership,” he said.

But the message did not end the concerns in European capitals.

“We are worried and we should be worried,” Thomas Matussek, senior adviser at Flint Global and a former German ambassador to the Britain and the United Nations, told Reuters.

“No one knows anything at the moment about what sort of decisions will be coming out of Washington. But it is clear that the man on top and the people closest to him feel that it’s the nation state that creates identity and not what they see as an amorphous group of countries like the EU.”

With elections looming in the Netherlands, France, and Germany this year, European officials said they hoped Pence, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could convince Trump to work constructively with the EU.

The worst-case scenario from Europe’s point of view was described by Ischinger in an article published last week, entitled “How Europe should deal with Trump”.

He said that if the U.S. administration actively supported right-wing populists in the looming election campaigns it would trigger a “major transatlantic crisis”.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Jeff Mason in Washington; editing by Mark John)

IMAGE: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and European Council President Donald Tusk hold a joint news conference in Brussels, Belgium, February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

Outgoing Anti-EU Firebrand Farage Demands His Party Push For ‘Hard’ Brexit

Bournemouth, England (Reuters) – Nigel Farage, the firebrand of Britain’s Brexit campaign, used his final speech as leader of the UK Independence Party on Friday to demand that his successor pushes for a “hard” EU exit that meets the demands of his party’s voters.

UKIP played a crucial role in the June 23 European Union referendum, tapping into anger at Brussels and rising anti-establishment sentiment to fuel a surprise 52-48 percent exit vote which rocked global financial markets.

But the party has suffered a series of bitter rows over its future direction since then and, with its main star Farage stepping down, faces a struggle to retain its influence over voters. His successor is due to be named later in the day.

Making his valedictory address at the UKIP annual conference in the southern English resort of Bournemouth, Farage said his party had “changed the center of gravity” of British politics.

But he warned that his successor must not let the government water down the terms of Britain’s EU exit.

“We can be very proud of the fact that we won the war but we now must win the peace,” he told a crowd of cheering activists.

“The only mechanism to put pressure on the government to keep the debate live and to make sure that those 17.4 million people (who voted ‘Leave’) get what they voted for is for UKIP to be healthy and for UKIP to be strong.”

Commentators say UKIP has become so synonymous with Farage, who first led the party from 2006 until and 2009 then took over the reins again the following year, that his departure leaves a huge gap which will be hard to fill.

His speech drew rapturous applause from supporters crowded into the conference hall to see the party’s star performer.

It set out three criteria by which the success of the government’s Brexit negotiations should be judged: whether Britain is outside the single market and free from European regulation, whether it has control of fishing rights in its territorial waters, and whether it has got rid of EU passports.

After the referendum result, Farage said he would step down as leader, and has since lent his experience of leading a popular political uprising to U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.

“I intend this autumn to travel around some other European capitals to try and help independents and democracy movements in those countries too,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Tina Bellon in London; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Photo: Nigel Farage, the outgoing leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), speaks at the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth, Britain, September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Donald Trump Is A Problem For The Whole World, EU’s Schulz Says

BERLIN (Reuters) – If U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wins the election in November, it would be problematic for the entire world and encourage copycats in Europe, European Parliament President Martin Schulz told a German magazine.

“Trump is not only a problem for the EU but also for the whole world,” Schulz said in an interview with Der Spiegel published online on Thursday.

“If a man who shows off by not having a clue and by saying that specialist knowledge is elitist rubbish ends up in the White House, a critical point will have been reached,” said Schulz, a German center-left Social Democrat.

Such a scenario would mean that there is an “obviously irresponsible man” sitting in a position that demands the utmost sense of responsibility, Schulz said.

He added that he was concerned that Trump getting into power would spur on copycats in Europe. “That’s why I want Hillary Clinton to win.”

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Photo: European Parliament President Martin Schulz presides a debate on the outcome of last EU-Turkey summit at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

EU Grants 348 Million Euros In Aid For Syrian Refugees In Turkey

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union on Thursday announced it was contracting 348 million euros ($393 mln) to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) for humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey, part of the bloc’s migration cooperation with Ankara.

The money comes as part of a 3 billion euro support for some 3 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, which the EU promised in return for Ankara’s help in curbing the number of people embarking from there for Europe.

“This is the largest humanitarian program the EU has ever financed,” the bloc’s Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Commissioner Christos Stylianides said in announcing the deal.

“The EU is keeping its promise of assisting Turkey in hosting the largest refugee population in the world.”

The WFP, together with the Turkish Red Crescent, will roll out a system under which refugees would get pre-paid cards to cover for food, housing, schooling or medical expenses in Turkey, where most Syrian refugees live outside camps.

Stylianides stressed allowing refugees to choose what they buy was important in giving the distressed people a sense of dignity and could help their relations with local communities.

The Cypriot commissioner said the EU had so far contracted 652 million euros for refugees in Turkey. But Ankara complains the money flows slowly as only 181 million euros have so far been disbursed.

The EU, which relies on Ankara in the migration deal that gave leaders of the 28-nation bloc a badly-needed breathing space after mass arrivals in 2015, promised to step up the aid and is also in talks on visa liberalization for Turks.

These have stalled before the summer break and ties between the EU and Ankara soured after a failed coup in Turkey in July.

The EU has intensified criticism of Turkey’s track record on human rights as Ankara went on to dismiss tens of thousands of people, and arrest many of them, over alleged links to a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom it accuses of being behind the coup.

Both sides are now seeking to calm down the rhetoric and, in the latest of a string of high-level contacts, EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn will visit Ankara on Friday.

Ankara says it would go on preventing refugees and migrants setting sail for the EU but may refuse to accept returns from the bloc if it does not give it more relaxed travel rules.

($1 = 0.8853 euros)

(Editing by Ralph Boulton)

Photo: Syrian refugee Ahmet Ilevi, 35, stands in front of the container, where he has lived with his wife (not seen) and five children since 2013, at the Harran refugee camp in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas