Donald Trump gave an interview in New York to Kai Diekmann, former chief editor of the German daily Bild, and Michael Gove from The Times, a former U.K. justice minister and pro-Brexit advocate.

“Essentially the European Union is a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I think it was very smart of Great Britain to leave,” he said.

Trump argued that the EU was founded by the European states in order to "beat" the U.S. in international trade.

“So, I don’t really care whether it’s separate or together, to me it doesn’t matter,” he said, in remarks published in both newspapers on Monday. 

Trump also said the refugee crisis would continue to undermine the EU project. 

“I think people want their own identity. So if you ask me: I believe others will leave,” he said.

He also stressed that his administration would strike a special trade deal with the U.K. to make Brexit a "great thing". 

Trump expressed his great respect for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but criticized her decision in 2015 to take in refugees without, he said, monitoring identities of those who arrived in the country. 

“It was a very big mistake,” he said, adding that creating “safe zones” for refugees within Syria would have been a substantially cheaper solution. 

"I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from," he added

In the interview, Trump also renewed his criticism of NATO, arguing that the alliance had failed to address terrorism and today’s challenges. 

NATO is "obsolete, because it was, you know, designed many, many years ago,“ he said. 

“Number two -- the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay,” he stressed, criticizing European allies for not increasing their defense budgets, and sharing the burden with the U.S..

“With that being said, NATO is very important to me,” he also said.

Merkel: Europe's fate in its own hands

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has refrained on Monday from sharp criticism of Trump over his controversial remarks. 

"The president-elect has outlined his views, so once he is in office, which is not the case at this point in time, we will cooperate obviously with the new American administration. And we will then see what sort of agreement we can reach between us,” she said in Berlin, at a joint news conference with New Zealand’s prime minister Bill English.

Despite doubts raised by Trump on the future of the EU following Brexit, Merkel said she was confident that the remaining 27 member states would address the current challenges faced by the union. 

“I think we as Europeans have our destiny in our own hands,” she stressed. "And I would very strongly argue that we ought to stand together as 27 member states, continue our intense cooperation with a forward-looking policy." 

Anadolu Agency