BRUSSELS, Belgium - Vowing to arrive at a common stance on U.S. import tariffs on steel and aluminum, which the Trump administration has threatened, European leaders met on Wednesday.
EU heads clarified at the outset that the bloc will not negotiate with a gun held to its head.
Donald Tusk, who chaired the summits, said that EU unity was key in dealing with the import duties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium announced by the U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump announced the tariffs on grounds of national security, but due to protests by longtime allies, he granted EU producers a temporary exemption until June 1 pending the outcome of talks.
The European Commission, which oversees trade policy for the 28 EU members, is insisting that the European Union be granted a permanent exemption without conditions.
EU leaders, some of whom have met Trump since the tariffs were announced and others who have held meetings with U.S. officials, have said that they are now seeking to agree a common stance and want to balance the views of those most fearful of a trade war and those determined not to be bullied into concessions.
Earlier in the day, French President Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders met for a summit in Bulgaria that began on Wednesday and stressed that the “bloc would not negotiate with a gun held to its head.”
Addressing a news conference before the dinner discussion, Tusk reportedly said, “Here again, unity is our greatest strength and my objective is simple - we stick to our guns. This means a permanent exemption from U.S. tariffs on aluminium and steel if we are to discuss possible trade liberalisation with the U.S.”
He added “The EU and U.S. are friends and partners. Therefore U.S. tariffs cannot be justified on the basis of national security. It is absurd to even think that the EU could be a threat to the United States.”
Later in his address, Tusk said Trump has rid Europe of “all illusions” with the trade dispute and by pulling out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme.
He even took to Twitter later and said, “Looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”
Wednesday’s meeting came days after the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, in a move that EU diplomats believe poses a threat to European companies doing business there.
Further, it has blocked appointments to the World Trade Organization, undermining its ability to settle trade disputes.
EU diplomats stressed during the summit that the bloc now has to find a unified stance that goes beyond just tariffs.
Yet, reports pointed out that Germany is especially worried about the tariffs in the run-up to the June 1 deadline.
With German cars set be hit in case the trade conflict escalates, Germany has urged its EU partners to show more flexibility.
However, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier acknowledged that finding a common stance with France and formulating an offer to the United States were “equally difficult.”
The European Commission has stated that it would respond to tariffs with its own duties on U.S. products, including motor bikes and whisky and is expected to notify the WTO of its potential plans this week.
According to reports, the Commission is said to have mooted the idea of negotiating an agreement with the United States to lower import duties, but only once the permanent exemption is granted.
Meanwhile, reports later in the day revealed that during a conversation with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has urged EU capitals to accept export restraints.