Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

PM homeward bound after crucial Merkel meeting

Prime Minister Bill English lays a wreath at the New Zealand War Memorial in Hyde Park, London. Photo / Claire Trevett
Prime Minister Bill English lays a wreath at the New Zealand War Memorial in Hyde Park, London. Photo / Claire Trevett

Prime Minister Bill English wound up his trip to Europe after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel early this morning and will return to New Zealand having done his bit as New Zealand's salesman.

English's first trip as Prime Minister saw him undertake a precarious balancing act of trying to keeping onside with both the EU and the UK - without taking sides to ensure New Zealand was not trampled underfoot by either in the ensuing melee of Brexit.

The visit with Merkel was perhaps the most nerve wracking for English.

English had described Germany as the "de facto leader of Europe" and Merkel's influence is such that her say so will be critical if the New Zealand free trade agreement is to be signed in anything even close to the 2-3 year timeframe European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has estimated.

But Merkel will be fighting her own battle later this year as she runs for re-election.

The other big issue English was interested in talking to Merkel about was the migration issues in Europe - including coping with refugees which Merkel is now facing criticism over, including from US President-elect Donald Trump.

That could see Merkel seeking more help in dealing with the Syrian refugees from English - although English has previously said New Zealand was doing enough.

Although English diligently avoided criticising either the UK or the EU over Brexit, he did make it clear that the free trade deal with the EU was the priority for New Zealand's interests - not only because it is likely to happen sooner but also because it is much larger.

That means New Zealand will keep talks with Russia on hold after the EU renewed its sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea.

English said New Zealand's decision to follow the EU's lead on Russia was paying off in terms of the agreement with the EU.

"If we can get a trade deal, get up and going with it and get it done in the kind of time that the Europeans are talking about, I think that would be partly because of the relationship we have built up and some of the common stance we have taken around issues like dealing with Russia."

- NZ Herald

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