Merkel spends family weekend with Cameron
A family weekend at a castle near Berlin allowed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron to seek common ground on an EU-US trade agreement and the fight against tax evasion.
The visit was the first time for Cameron to travel abroad for a political assignment with his wife and three children and one of the rare occasions Merkel was accompanied by her husband, Joachim Sauer.
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According to the German chancellery, Merkel's aim was to have some quiet time away from the capital together with a "friendly" head of government.
The move comes after Cameron ruffled feathers in Berlin with his veto against a German-inspired EU treaty on fiscal discipline in December 2011 and a speech earlier this year about the need to reassess Britain's role in the EU.
Merkel's spokesman on Friday (12 April) said once again the Chancellor sees Britain as "an important and indispensable partner in Europe."
Downing Street said in a press release on Saturday the two leaders "agreed on the urgent need to make Europe more competitive and flexible and talked about ways to achieve this."
Cameron's push to claw back powers from Brussels and reassess EU's competences so far has been met with reluctance in Berlin and Paris, as well as Madrid.
But Merkel's informal session was not aimed at further polarising the British leader.
Common ground was found on an upcoming free trade agreement between the EU and the US, which both Merkel and Cameron present as a means of boosting Europe's sluggish economy.
Tax evasion was another area where the two agreed on, after a joint initiative by the finance ministers of Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain - who, on Saturday, were joined by Poland - on exchanging information about bank accounts held by their citizens abroad.
The two-day visit started on Friday evening with a dinner among the two leaders' families and a few English-speaking guests, including David McAllister, a German regional politician of Scottish descent.
On Saturday morning, the two leaders and their advisers held more political talks about EU reforms, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, as well as the upcoming G8 summit under British chairmanship which will seek a global deal in the fight against tax evasion.
The Meseberg residence - a Baroque castle some 70 km north of Berlin - is Merkel's preferred location for informal talks with leaders away from the the media pressure of the capital.
Last year, she held several sessions with small groups of EU leaders from Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands and Portugal.
The mini-summits were designed to allay concerns among smaller EU states about being marginalised in the debate about the future of the eurozone.
The Cameron visit was however the first time children were also brought along, for whom Merkel prepared presents: a teddy bear for Cameron's youngest daughter, a painting set for his nine-year old daughter and a Lego set for his seven-year old son.
For their part, Merkel and her husband received a Denby tea set from the British couple.