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German and Austrian leaders call for European Union to close ranks

Germany's foreign minister and Austria's chancellor have said the US and Russia were openly trying to destabilize the EU. Sigmar Gabriel called for EU-wide solutions to current challenges.

German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern called for European Union (EU) members to close ranks in the face of pressures from the new US administration and from Russia.

Gabriel warned it would be a mistake for European countries to seek individual answers to current challenges, rather than EU-wide solutions.

"We are witnessing a new delineation of the world," Gabriel said. He was speaking after a meeting with Kern, a fellow Social Democrat, in Vienna.

Kern said US President Donald Trump was openly attempting to weaken the EU, while there were similar efforts "in our eastern neighborhood," referencing Russia. He called for a "phase of closing ranks" within the EU.

Gabriel stressed that Europe needed above all a common foreign, defense and security policy, Austrian media reported.

Refugees, who fled from Libya, wait in line behind barb-wire to receive food at the Choucha refugee camp at the Ras Jdir post near the Tunisian border (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

Gabriel said people needed to be realistic about the political situations in countries such as Libya and Tunisia and their ability to abide by immigration deals

'Realism' on North African migrants

Gabriel called for more realism amid controversial proposals for refugee holding camps in North Africa.

"I advise people not to paint a world that does not exist," Gabriel said.

On Monday the new President of the EU Parliament Antonio Tajani called for refugee camps in Libya and a billion-dollar "Marshall Plan" for Africa. "Either we are acting now, or millions of Africans are going to Europe in the next 20 years," Tajani told the Funke Media Group.

Germany's Sigmar Gabriel meets Austria's Sebastian Kurz (picture alliance/APA/dpa/H. Neubauer)

Gabriel later met with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz

Early in February EU leaders agreed on a plan to stem the flow of migrants via the Mediterranean including support for setting up safe refugee camps in Libya.

Gabriel said it was dangerous to think that the EU-Turkey agreement on intercepting and inviting migrants was transferable to unstable and politically chaotic countries such as Libya and Tunisia.

In 2016 the EU signed a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees in exchange for increase resettlement of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey and an acceleration of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

Gabriel also met with Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz who said he felt encouraged by these proposals. Kurz said the discussion on the refugees crisis had finally begun to become more honest, saying he had long been seeking to turn back refugees.

More focus on vulnerable members of society

Kern and Gabriel also stressed that the EU should focus more on the most vulnerable members of society, and on delivering prosperity to all.

They said EU members needed to restore the promise of prosperity as a primary issue and to transform the internal market into a social market economy.

Gabriel's Social Democratic Party (SPD) is hoping for a winning swing in this September's election. Austria will head to the polls one year later.

aw/jm (dpa, KNA, AFP)

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