Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Hollande of France have met in Berlin, preoccupied with a need for European unity in the face of threats at home and abroad, not least with President Trump now in the White House.
Angela Merkel spoke of new challenges in defending a “free society” and “free trade”, referring to a global context where “the world changes radically and quickly”.
Brexit was also on their minds as European leaders prepare for a summit next week in Malta.
“We know that the referendum in Great Britain is a big turning point in the development of the European Union and so the commitment that we gave in Bratislava, that the 27 member states will stand together and work together towards overcoming the challenges, is even more important,” the German Chancellor told a joint news conference.
On their minds may have been the US president’s derogatory view of the EU as expressed in a recent interview, his delight over Brexit and suggestion that other European countries might follow Britain’s example.
“Of course there are challenges and let us be open, these are challenges linked to the new US administration. To do with trade rules, to do with our ways of dealing with the conflicts in the world,” the François Hollande told the news conference. “Of course we have to try and talk to Donald Trump. And we must also do so with a European conviction and by promoting our interests and our values.”
Merkel and Hollande will be scrutinising Theresa May’s meeting with Donald Trump in the US.
They may have been reassured by the British prime minister’s defence of international institutions and warnings about Russia.
But they are also conscious that the forces behind the paths that Britain and America are now taking are also present at home – where both France and Germany face elections this year.
During Hollande’s visit, the French and German leaders paid their respects at the site of the Berlin Christmas market attack, which killed 12 people.