German president Steinmeier blasts Brexit and populism

President Steinmeier warned that populists were using nationalism to keep focus away from the big picture in his first speech to the EU parliament. He called Brexit “bitter” and “irresponsible.”

Frankreich Bundespräsident Steinmeier besucht EU-Parlament (picture alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka)

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier slammed Brexit and the rising tide of populism in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

In one of his first major addresses since being sworn as Germany’s head of state in last month, the former diplomat called Brexit “bitter” and warned that the country would suffer without the economic and political capital of the European Union.

“It is irresponsible to say that in this world, a European country can make its voice and its economic interests heard without the EU,” Steinmeier said.

Referring to the nationalistic, anti-immigrant rhetoric that characterized not only the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union but also a number of election campaigns across Europe, especially France, Steinmeier encouraged Europeans to see these movements as reductionist and empty.

“Populists paint the world black and white and turn fears into political capital,” he said, looking beyond Europe to the populism espoused by US President Donald Trump. Trump recently accused Germany of using the EU solely to promote its own interests.

In his first speech at the @Europarl_EN as German president Frank-Walter delivers a strong message about .

Steinmeier further criticized ethno-centric nationalism as small-minded, and said those who supported it were digging trenches, with a strong Europe would “seriously look for ways to build bridges over those trenches.”

The president’s comments came ahead of one of his first official trips in his new role, to fellow EU member Greece. It is likely to be a tricky visit, as Germany now sees itself as the great defender of European solidarity. However, tensions are still high between the two nations over Athens’ debt crisis and Berlin’s role as one of its major creditors pushing for much-despised austerity measures.

es/rc (AFP, dpa)

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