French FM Slams Populism, Warns against Isolationism

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault speaks at the Lowy Institute in Sydney on March 2, 2017. Ayrault said that democracy is being threatened by populism and by those who "propose to build walls and close borders", in a veiled criticism of US President Donald Trump and called on countries to unite together to tackle the lure of isolationism and populism. / AFP PHOTO / PETER PARKS

Democracy is being threatened by populism and by those who “propose to build walls and close borders,” France’s foreign minister said Thursday in a veiled criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Jean-Marc Ayrault called on countries to tackle isolationism, warning that “we would make a grave, collective mistake if we were to give in to the rise of extreme politics” by forgetting the lessons of the two world wars.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out migrants, and in an address to Congress Tuesday stood by his plan to subject travelers from certain countries seen as a risk to “extreme vetting”.

“Those who present themselves as critics of the ‘system’ are actually attacking democratic institutions,” Ayrault said in a speech at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

“Those who propose to build walls and close borders do not have any solution for the security of our nations and are threatening their prosperity.”

America’s European allies have also been rattled by Trump’s criticism of NATO and the European Union and his softer approach on Russia, fearing a move towards isolationism as part of his “America First” strategy.

France is facing its own populist uprising led by far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has promised a vote on EU membership if elected and is currently forecast to win the first round of elections on April 23 but lose the May 7 run-off.

“I am certain that the extreme right-wing party would not gain power in France but… it’s (certainly not) business as usual,” said Ayrault, who is in Australia to grow French political and economic ties after the inking of a Aus$50 billion (US$38 billion) submarine deal last year.