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Merkel pushes for joint EU foreign policy

Berlin – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she wants the European Union to take further steps towards a common foreign policy during a meting with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Berlin.

Saying it was part of a "very ambitious agenda" for the reform of the EU, she cited the examples of China and Russia as particular areas where the bloc needed to have a common approach.

The EU already has a common foreign policy towards Africa and Merkel cited this as a good example. "But now we need that for the other regions of the world," Merkel said.

Call for solidarity

Merkel and Gentiloni both stressed the need for a common asylum procedure and a reform of the so-called Dublin rules, which among other provisions require asylum seekers to be sent back to the first EU country they were registered in to have their cases processed.

Gentiloni decried EU countries that were not pulling their weight over the refugee issue. "Solidarity has to be demonstrated here," the Italian premier said.

Now that the financial crisis in the EU is over, Merkel said the bloc was in a "completely new phase" and needed to secure economic growth and push forward innovation.

Europe needs a stable German government

She stressed that there were differences between her conservative bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) in forming a new coalition government, but only "in nuances."

Ahead of the meeting Gentiloni had called on the SPD to accept the new coalition deal in an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper as the party membership prepares to vote on accepting it or not. "Europe needs a stable German government," he said.

Gentiloni is currently on the campaign trail as Italy gears up for an uncertain national election on March 4.

His centre-left Democratic Party is trailing behind the populist Five Star Movement and a right-wing bloc led by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Friday's meeting comes after talks between the two leaders planned for last week were delayed due to the signing of a new coalition deal in Berlin.