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Lady Brexit meets Monsieur Europe: May and Macron to talk Tuesday

British Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting France's president on her first foreign trip since an

By ANGELA CHARLTON and GREGORY KATZ Associated Press Published: June 14, 2017 4:00 AM
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PARIS -- She wants to escape the European Union, he wants to embolden it. British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron are heading to talks Tuesday from opposite sides of the Brexit front line.

They may set aside enmity over the EU, however, to talk about fighting a common enemy: terrorism.

May arrives in Paris with her leadership hobbled by a catastrophic election last week just as Britain heads into tough talks on leaving the European Union.

While May struggles to hold onto power, Macron is on the ascendancy, with his year-old party set to win a huge majority in parliamentary elections Sunday. That should fortify Macron's standing in Europe as he tries to push the remaining EU nations to stand tough in Brexit negotiations, and to unite even more closely as Britain departs.

May is traveling to France "in a significantly weakened position" because of her election setback and will be watched closely by Macron and other EU leaders, said Joseph Dobbs, a research fellow at the European Leadership Network in London.

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"Nearly a year on from the Brexit vote, Europeans are understandably confused by what Britain wants. That was true a week ago, and it's more true now after the vote," he said. "It's gotten an awful lot more confusing."

With British officials suggesting they won't be able to formally start Brexit negotiations next week as planned, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said Tuesday that, "the European Union is ready to start negotiations as soon as the British side is too."

The May-Macron meeting in Paris is expected to focus instead on deepening counterterrorism cooperation.

Britain and France face similar challenges in fighting home-grown Islamic extremism and share similar scars from deadly attacks that rocked London, Manchester and Paris.

Notably, the two leaders are talking about ways to push tech companies to better police online extremism. Macron's office said the leaders will discuss anti-terrorism efforts both bilaterally and on a European level.

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After the Islamic State group recruited hundreds of French fighters largely through online propaganda, France introduced legislation ordering French providers to block certain content, but acknowledges any such effort must reach well beyond its borders. Tech-savvy Macron has lobbied for tougher European rules, but details of his plans remain unclear.

It's also unclear what Britain wants to propose. The country already has tough measures such as a law known informally as the Snooper's Charter, which gives authorities the powers to look at the internet browsing records of everyone in the country. Among other things, the law requires telecommunications companies to keep records of all users' web activity for a year, creating data bases of personal information that the firms worry could be vulnerable to leaks and hackers.

The chance to stand in solidarity with the French president against terrorism will come as a "welcome reprieve" for May and serve to remind people that she is still prime minister despite her political woes, Dobbs said.

After their talks, May and Macron will watch a France-England soccer match that will honor victims of the recent attacks in Manchester and London, with a moment of silence and the Oasis song "Don't Look Back in Anger" played by the French Republican Guard.

Three attackers mowed down pedestrians on London Bridge and then stabbed people in nearby Borough Market on June 3. Eight people were killed and dozens more injured. On May 22, a man detonated a bomb as crowds were leaving an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing 22 people.

France's players were touched by the overwhelming show of support they received from England fans when they played an exhibition match at Wembley Stadium on Nov. 17, 2015-- just four days after attacks hit a Paris stadium, cafes and a rock concert, killing 130 people. England fans that night sang along with the French anthem.

Katz reported from London.


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