BRUSSELS (AP) — New British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who recently likened the European Union to Adolf Hitler's vision for Europe, came to Brussels Monday to meet for the first time with his EU colleagues, and said he hopes to cooperate closely.
Johnson led a winning campaign to persuade British voters to leave the European Union, but said the referendum's outcome last month "in no sense means we are leaving Europe."
"We are not going to be in any way abandoning our leading role in European cooperation and participation of all kinds," Johnson said before the start of an EU foreign ministers' meeting. He said last week's attack in Nice, France, showed the need for European countries to coordinate their response to terrorism, and that he would support an EU call for "restraint and moderation" in Turkey following the failed military putsch there.
Despite Johnson's anti-EU stance, Federica Mogherini, the bloc's foreign policy chief, told reporters that "our common work on foreign and security policy continues and today we will welcome him as a new member of the family."
Johnson and Mogherini met privately in Brussels on Sunday evening and "had a good exchange on the main issues on the agenda today," the EU official said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who has said Johnson "lied a lot" to turn British public opinion against the EU, vowed to speak to him "with the greatest sincerity and frankness." Ayrault also called for a quick start to formal talks on Britain's exit from the 28-nation bloc to end what he called the current situation of uncertainty as to the country's intentions and relationship with its European partners.
Johnson, 52, a former London mayor and Brussels-based journalist, was appointed foreign secretary by new Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday.
"It is very good to be here for my first overseas trip," he told reporters Monday morning as he arrived at EU headquarters, also referring to his colleagues from other member states as "our friends."
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in May, during the referendum campaign, Johnson said the EU was trying to build a super-state, recreating the Roman Empire.
"Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods," he was quoted as saying.
At Monday's foreign ministers' meeting, Johnson "did not present his excuses" to his colleagues for those remarks, Ayrault said, but he added that he didn't feel personally slighted. The Frenchman said he and his colleagues are conscious that the EU grew out of attempts to build a more peaceful and prosperous Europe on the ruins of World War II.
Ayrault told a post-meeting news conference that the frequently flamboyant Johnson behaved with "a certain modesty" at the session. Britain's new top diplomat didn't hold a news conference of his own, but emerged for about two minutes to speak with journalists. Johnson said he'd had a "long, productive day."
Asked what sort of reception he was given by the other EU ministers, he answered simply: "very good."