By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) - Europe must not flinch in defending its interests and people now that Donald Trump's election win has added to the uncertainty created by Britain's decision to exit the European Union, France's foreign minister said on Wednesday.
France is a key American ally, and its officials had in recent weeks openly endorsed Hillary Clinton for U.S. president and warned that Trump's "confused" foreign policy objectives were alarming for the rest of the world.
"We have to meet the challenge for a Europe that must be able to better defend its citizens and its interests," Ayrault told France 2 television.
"Europe cannot blink after Brexit, after the election of Donald Trump with all the questions being raised, Europe must stand together more, be more active and go more on the offensive even if it is just to protect itself."
President Francois Hollande, who has yet to announce whether he will run for a second term in next year's French presidential election, said Paris wanted to immediately begin talks with Trump to clarify his stance on key international affairs.
"This American election opens a period of uncertainty," the Socialist president told reporters. "In the context we need a strong France and a united Europe capable of expressing and carrying out its policy everywhere where its values and interests are put into question."
Trump's campaign was marked by insults and inflammatory rhetoric with regard to radical Islam, while on international affairs he has brought into question U.S. policy on everything from Syria to Iran, Mexico and North Korea.
France, which vies with Britain for status as the world's fifth largest economy, has itself been reeling in the wake of several deadly attacks claimed by Islamic State militants since last year.
Trump's comment in July that "France is no longer France", and that if it had looser gun laws then the attacks would not have happened, upset French officials.
"The U.S. is a vital partner for France and what's at stake is peace, the fight against terrorism, the situation in the Middle East, economic relations and the preservation of the planet," said Hollande. "On all these levels, I will begin immediately discussions with the new American administration, but I will do it with vigilance and frankness."
NO IMPOTENCE OR WEAKNESS
With just six months to go before France goes to the polls, likely conservative candidates also sought to stress the importance of a stronger France and more united Europe.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is trailing rival Alain Juppe in opinion polls as they campaign for the conservative presidential ticket, said France must tackle the new world order head on.
He said it was clear that with Trump now joining Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping as leaders determined to defend their country's interests, France could no longer sit passively on the sidelines and blindly accept the impact of globalization, immigration and Islamist militancy.
"Times will be tough. France must play its role to re-establish authority. My belief is that there will be no place for impotency, weakness or surrender," Sarkozy told reporters.
Juppe, a former prime minister, said it was too early to give a view on Trump in light of the U.S. Republican's contradictory comments especially with regard to France and Europe, which he "appears to know pretty badly".
"It forces us to reorganize ourselves because the United States will defend its interests so we will need to defend ours, those of France and Europe, so in a way the ball is in our court," Juppe said.
(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Jean-Baptiste Vey and Simon Carraud; Editing by Mark Heinrich)