German FM: Europe must step up at UN, WTO as US pulls out

Germany's foreign minister said Monday that Europe should fill the gaps left by the withdrawal of American funds and diplomacy in international organizations and key regions of the world.

Heiko Maas told an annual gathering of German diplomats in Berlin that Europe should increase its political and financial weight at the United Nations and the World Trade Organization — both of which have come under pressure from Washington since U.S. President Donald Trump took office last year.

He also urged Europe to step up its activities in the Western Balkans, in the Mideast and in Africa, warning that "the cost of war, poverty and displacement in our neighborhood ... is borne by us Europeans."

Maas, who has defended the international deal to halt Iran's nuclear program despite Trump's decision to pull out of it, said while Europe should seek to "rebalance" its relationship with Washington, "the goal is never 'Europe first.'"

Speaking at the same event, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland described current trans-Atlantic relations as "challenging."

"We truly need a strong Europe today in the world, now more than ever," she said, noting the threats posed to democratic nations by authoritarian states with "well-financed propaganda and espionage operations" and by domestic extremists such as white supremacists.

"(It's) time for liberal democracy to fight back," said Freeland, adding that one important task for governments was to reassure their beleaguered middle class citizens.

Alluding to Canada's spat with Saudi Arabia over Ottawa's criticism of the kingdom's arrest of women's rights activists, Freeland said she hoped and counted on Germany's support.

"Canada will always stand up for human rights around the world, very much including women's rights, even when we are told to mind our own business, or that matters such as these should only be discussed in private, between leaders, behind closed doors," she said.