In what may be his last major speech as German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel on Saturday told delegates to the Munich Security Conference that the European Union needed to develop a joint foreign policy agenda to counter growing assertiveness from countries such as China and Russia.
At the same time, he stressed the continued importance of US-European cooperation, saying now was not the time for "just pursuing individual national interests."
Gabriel's comments come amid widespread European concern that the US, under the leadership of President Donald Trump, is increasingly turning its back on traditional trans-Atlantic partnerships.
'We no longer recognize our America'
He said that particularly Germany, which had learnt so much from the US about democracy, multilateralism and free trade after World War II, was "perturbed" at the new course taken by Washington "because we no longer recognize our America."
"I am convinced cooperation between Europe and the US is important to maintain the architecture of freedom," he said.
Among other things, he called on Washington not to abort the nuclear deal with Iran, but instead to help devise joint new strategies to counter Iranian expansionist policies.
Investing in solidarity
On the European front, Gabriel said three things were necessary to move forward: generating internal cohesion, developing joint foreign policy interests and coming up with tools to pursue common interests.
"We need a European moment ... We firmly believe we need cooperation instead of confrontation," he said, adding that Germany would invest in solidarity for that reason.
Gabriel also warned of the challenges posed by China's growing geopolitical assertiveness and Russian aggression, notably in Ukraine.
He said China and Russia were trying "to test and undermine" the liberal Western world order, and that for that reason he expected friends such as the US to support the EU project.
"Nobody should attempt to divide the European Union: not Russia, not China and also not the United States," he said.
'The EU a huge achievement'
In moving words, he described the EU as a huge achievement, where within one generation enemies had turned first into partners, then friends.
But he went on to say that the bloc, which was once a bid to establish internal reconciliation following two wars, now needed a common "power project" to avoid it being a "vegetarian in a world of carnivores."
Gabriel: Rethink Russia sanctions
Earlier, Gabriel said at talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that he was in favor of gradually softening some sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine if a ceasefire could be brought about with the help of UN peacekeepers.
Although the official stance is that all provisions of the Minsk peace accords should be implemented before any sanctions are lifted, Gabriel said this was "not realistic" unless Moscow were given some sanctions relief.
Russia has proposed bringing UN peacekeeping forces into eastern Ukraine to end violence in a conflict between pro-Moscow rebels and the Kyiv government that has killed some 10,000 people since 2014.
Gabriel is currently serving in an acting capacity as foreign minister, as Germany continues its struggle to establish a coalition government.
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