German chancellor Angela Merkel has hit out at “polarisation”, the “poison” of populism in Europe and the threats to international co-operation, reaffirming Germany’s commitment to finding multilateral solutions to global problems.

In the latest in a series of rebukes to the more isolationist policies of the US at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ms Merkel said:

We think shutting ourselves out, isolating ourselves will not lead to a good solution. We believe that if things are not fair that then we have to seek multilateral answers and not pursue a unilateral protectionist course.

Asked about the rise of populism on the continent, the chancellor said: “I hope it is not going to grow, but it is a poison.”

She also warned over the danger of caricatures — pointing to characterisations of “tight-fisted” Germans and work-shy Greeks which she said had arisen from the euro crisis. “The next thing is ‘Muslims are like this, Christians are like this’”, she said.

The UK’s decision to leave the EU was “regrettable”, Mrs Merkel said, but it had galvanised the remaining EU members into deepening their relationship.

“We have to strengthen the eurozone. We have to have a capital markets union, complete the banking union,” she continued. “We have to co-operate on the foreign policy front. If we — with 27 member states — are not able to send a clear and united signal to big countries such as China, India, the United States of America — if foreign policy is made nationally, we will fail.

She added that co-operation with Africa was also “very very important because we have a great debt to fulfil from colonial times”.

On Brexit, Ms Merkel reiterated her regret that the UK would not be a member of the EU for much longer, but stuck to the now-familiar line from the bloc’s leaders that single market participation was linked to the EU’s four freedoms:

For Germany and for all of us, we want to have a great partnership. We will be very clear on questions connected with exit. Single market participation is contingent on the freedoms but we are very closely linked to Britain. We have shared interests and it is in their hands how close they want this partnership to be.

Ms Merkel showed that she retained a sense of humour, though. Returning to matters of domestic politics, and the drawn-out coalition talks between her Christian Democrats and the SPD, she quipped: “Please keep your fingers crossed for us getting a government as quickly as possible”.

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