Trump's Davos visit sparks anti-nationalist rhetoric from Merkel

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - The leaders of Germany and Italy warned at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday against a return to nationalism and protectionism, with Angela Merkel evoking the two world wars and openly questioning whether the world had learned from them.

The speeches, given in quick succession, came one day before U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the annual gathering of the global elite in the Swiss Alps to promote his "America First" policies.

Trump has pulled the United States out of international agreements on trade and climate since taking power one year ago, unsettling countries in Europe and Asia who have looked to Washington to help shape global rules since World War Two.

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MANILA, PHILIPPINES - NOVEMBER 13: From left to right: Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand Prayuth Chan-Ocha, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Nguyen Xuan Phuc, US President Donald Trump and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte during a joint photo session of the heads of the summit delegations on November 13, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. (Photo by Alexander Miridonov/Kommersant via Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama shakes hands as he meets with Republican President-elect Donald Trump on transition planning in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016 in Washington,DC. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 10: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pose for photographs before bilateral meetings in the Oval Office at the White House February 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump and Abe are expected to discuss many issues, including trade and security ties and will hold a joint press confrence later in the day. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Trump Handshake Tajikistan President
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, greets Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, as he arrives to the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. Trudeau, hailed by Joe Biden as one of the last champions of liberalism, heads to Washington for his first meeting with Trump, whose bellicose statements and immigration restrictions reveal a deep gulf between the two leaders. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron (R) shake hands ahead of a working lunch, at the US ambassador's residence, on the sidelines of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, in Brussels, on May 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
(L to R) German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron talk ahead a working session on the first day of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 7, 2017. Leaders of the world's top economies gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / Patrik STOLLARZ (Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS , BELGIUM - MAY 25, 2017: King Philippe of Belgium, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron during the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit in Brussels (Picture by Christophe Licoppe/Photonews via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (2nd R) shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron (2nd L) and his wife Brigitte Macron (L), next to US First Lady Melania Trump, during the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris on July 14, 2017. The parade on Paris's Champs-Elysees will commemorate the centenary of the US entering WWI and will feature horses, helicopters, planes and troops. / AFP PHOTO / POOL AND AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) hug after speaking to the press in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 26, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Polish President's wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda leaves Donald Trump hand on 06 July, 2017 in Warsaw, Poland. US President Donald Trump is on his first visit behind the former Iron Curtain. He is expected to focus largely on defence in talks with Baltic, Balkan and central European leaders. (Photo by Krystian Dobuszynski/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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"We are seeing nationalism, populism and in a lot of countries a polarized atmosphere," Merkel told a packed auditorium where French President Emmanuel Macron will speak later on Wednesday and Trump on Friday.

"We believe that isolation won't help us. We believe we need to cooperate, that protectionism is not the answer," she said, asking: "Have we really learned from history, or haven't we?"

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, asked what his message to Trump was, offered a defense of multilateral cooperation and warned against steps to undermine that.

"It is totally legitimate, understandable, the desire for political leaders to defend their own citizens, their own companies, their own economy," he said. "I respect that, but obviously there is a limit."

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The scene in Davos of two of the former Axis powers in World War Two cautioning the United States against nationalism was a sign of how much Trump's election has unsettled governments in Europe and altered the relationships that have existed since the war.

Still, after suffering a series of crises over the past decade - from euro turmoil, to Ukraine, refugees and Brexit - Europe is feeling confident again.

Its economy has rebounded and the election of pro-European centrist Macron in France has injected new momentum into efforts to reform the European Union.

Merkel, weakened by an inconclusive German election in September which has given way to months of political limbo as she tries to form a coalition, urged Europe to complete its banking union project, make progress on a single digital market and take steps to shield the bloc from future crises.

RELATED: Trump and Merkel take awkward photos together

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Trump and Merkel take some awkward photos
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Trump and Merkel take some awkward photos
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to a bilateral meeting on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 6, 2017. Leaders of the world's top economies will gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Michael Kappeler (Photo credit should read MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to a bilateral meeting on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 6, 2017. Leaders of the world's top economies will gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Matthias Schrader (Photo credit should read MATTHIAS SCHRADER/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to a bilateral meeting on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 6, 2017. Leaders of the world's top economies will gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Michael Kappeler (Photo credit should read MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to a bilateral meeting on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 6, 2017. Leaders of the world's top economies will gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Matthias Schrader (Photo credit should read MATTHIAS SCHRADER/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to a bilateral meeting on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 6, 2017. Leaders of the world's top economies will gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Michael Kappeler (Photo credit should read MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and US President Donald Trump pose for a photo prior to a bilateral meeting on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 6, 2017. Leaders of the world's top economies will gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / Pool AP / Matthias Schrader (Photo credit should read MATTHIAS SCHRADER/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and US President Donald Trump pose for a photo prior to a bilateral meeting on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 6, 2017. Leaders of the world's top economies will gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Matthias Schrader (Photo credit should read MATTHIAS SCHRADER/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets U.S. President Donald Trump on the eve of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Kappeler/POOL
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets U.S. President Donald Trump on the eve of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Kappeler/POOL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets U.S. President Donald Trump on the eve of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Matthias Schrader,POOL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets U.S. President Donald Trump on the eve of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Kappeler/POOL
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets U.S. President Donald Trump on the eve of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Kappeler/POOL
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets U.S. President Donald Trump on the eve of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Kappeler/POOL
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and US President Donald Trump leave for a bilateral meeting on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 6, 2017. Leaders of the world's top economies will gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Matthias Schrader (Photo credit should read MATTHIAS SCHRADER/AFP/Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 06: German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives U.S. President Donald Trump in the Hotel Atlantic, on the eve of the G20 summit, for bilateral talks on July 6, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. Leaders of the G20 group of nations are meeting for the July 7-8 summit. Topics high on the agenda for the summit include climate policy and development programs for African economies. (Photo by Jens Schluter - Pool/Getty Images)
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"Europe must take its fate into its own hands," she said, echoing a message she sent after a contentious Group of Seven summit with Trump back in May.

She said Germany and its European partners wanted a "good partnership" with Britain after it leaves the EU, but said it was up to London to decide what kind of link it wanted and said there could be no concessions on core EU principles.

"Being a member of the single market is tied to the principle of free movement. On that we can't make compromises," Merkel said. "It is up to Britain to tell us how close a partnership they want. We are open to every kind of partnership."

(Reporting by Noah Barkin and Yara Bayoumy)

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