Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron met behind the walls of a medieval island fortress in the Mediterranean on Thursday to chart the next steps for a partnership that is the driving force behind the European Union.
In the grounds of Fort de Bregancon, Merkel was greeted on arrival by Macron and his wife Brigitte, who exchanged bows instead of handshakes.
"The best place in the world," Merkel told her hosts in English as they pointed out the features of the fortress, traditional summer residence of French leaders. They then put on surgical masks and went inside to start their talks.
Lebanon, anti-government protests in Belarus, the Covid-19 crisis, Mali's coup d'etat, and tensions between Greece and Turkey will be discussed, according to an official in the French presidential administration.
Merkel - mindful of her legacy as her 15 years in power draw to an end - is seeking to cement progress on some long-standing objectives, away from the day-to-day drama of international affairs.
These include, according to two senior German government sources, deciding what relationship Europe should have with a resurgent China, re-imagining the shape of the EU after Britain's exit, and carving out a role for Europe as a defence power to match its economic might.
"Both (Merkel and Macron) are aware that the EU is in a crucial period and that France and Germany - even though they have different views on a lot of issues - have to stick together," said one of the German government sources.
In July, Merkel and Macron worked together to persuade squabbling EU members to agree to give the bloc, for the first time in its history, debt-raising powers to finance a post-Covid recovery.
Attention is now turning to what else the duo can deliver in the time left before they get distracted by the German chancellor's succession and France's 2022 presidential election.
"This visit is testimony to the exceptional level of Franco-German engagement on the bilateral, European, and international level," said the official in the French presidential administration.