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Theresa May Meets Angela Merkel Ahead Of Formal Brexit Talks


The leaders of Germany and the United Kingdom got a chance to size each other up today in Berlin.


THERESA MAY: Two women who, if I may say so, I think get on with the job and both want to deliver the best possible results for the people of the U.K. and the people of Germany.


CORNISH: The first voice there was British Prime Minister Theresa May and then German Chancellor Angela Merkel replying with the German word for exactly. This is May's first foreign trip since being named prime minister, and there are many questions about the road ahead when it comes to the complicated Brexit negotiations.

Stefan Kornelius is foreign editor of the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. He was watching their meeting. He joins us now via Skype. Welcome to the program.


MAY: So both Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister May were careful to frame this as an introduction, not a negotiation. How come?

KORNELIUS: This is the first time they meet, and they need to establish trust. They need to build a foundation where they can negotiate from. So this is the moment where they get to know each other. They test out their chemistry. They know what - how they tick, and they might tell sort of from their personal lives. But this is not the moment where they start negotiating.

CORNISH: There are some parallels between Angela Merkel and Theresa May. Both have been described as pragmatists. People look to their past and see both are the daughters of pastors. Do we have a sense of what their relationship might be like?

KORNELIUS: Their relationship will be very focused on getting things done and not letting things get out of control. I guess both women are extremely modest. They're not flashy, and they're not showing off. And they try to boil down politics into the doable things. Britain has to live somehow with the European Union even after Brexit, so they have to find some very inventive ways to link both bodies together. And this will probably be a very technocratic thing to do.

But on the other side, it's a very emotional thing to do because much of the continent is fed up with British exceptionalism, with having the Brits getting their way all the time. And the British want out, and they said so.

CORNISH: And Angela Merkel has said in the past that the Brexit negotiations will not be run on the principle of cherry picking. What do you expect some of the sticking points to be?

KORNELIUS: Well, the cherry picking starts already, at least with pundits and sort of the second and third tier in politics. The British side really sees their Common Market of the European Union as the main target. This is where they want to be part of because British economy and the European economy depend on each other.

But the British definitely do not want to sort of sign off to the flipside of the Common Market, which is free movement - migration creation within the EU. So having - sort of opting out of the migrational (ph) part and just getting the economic benefits will not work. And this will be some of those very testing chapters which will have to be negotiated.

CORNISH: Stefan Kornelius is foreign editor of the German newspaper a Suddeutsche Zeitung and is a biographer of Angela Merkel. Thank you so much.

KORNELIUS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.