National / Politics

Abe sets off on 4-day trip to Europe

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left Japan on Sunday for a four-day European trip that will see him make stops in Germany, France, the European Union headquarters in Brussels and Italy.

According to government officials, Abe wants to help lay the groundwork for a successful Group of Seven summit in Italy in May.

He is expected to seek affirmation of the importance of free trade in talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and European Council President Donald Tusk.

“We will be working together with the European Union on issues the international community faces such as North Korea and free trade,” Abe told reporters before departing from Haneda airport.

Abe’s trip comes ahead of a series of elections in major European countries. Unease about immigration and the functions of the European Union has prompted speculation that voters could reject the current political establishment in favor of more populist candidates.

France is due to hold the first round of its presidential election next month, in which Hollande will not run, while Germany is preparing for a federal election in September.

In his meeting with Merkel on Monday, Abe is expected to share his views on the global economy and security issues and discuss how to address the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, whom both the leaders have met recently.

While in Germany, Abe plans to give a speech at CeBIT, a world-leading information technology trade fair in Hanover, at the invitation of Merkel.

Abe will hold talks with Hollande in Paris on Monday evening before meeting Tusk in Brussels on Tuesday.

With Tusk, he is expected to affirm a resolve to swiftly conclude a free trade agreement under negotiation between Japan and the European Union.

On Tuesday evening, his first face-to-face meeting with Gentiloni, who took office in December, will allow him to get acquainted with the new Italian leader and discuss May’s G-7 leaders’ summit to be held in Taormina, Sicily.

Abe is also likely to seek agreements with the leaders to step up pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs, officials said.

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