BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is set to meet Thursday with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Barcelona to strengthen relations between the European neighbors by signing a friendship treaty.

The one-day summit in Barcelona comes amid a day of widespread strikes and protests on the other side of the Pyrenees against Macron’s bid to increase the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64.

Sánchez and Macron are to sign a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between their countries. Both governments consider this a diplomatic bond of the highest order. Spain only has a similar treaty with Portugal; France has them with Germany and Italy.

The leaders are seeking stronger positions inside the European Union. Macron is profiling himself as the continent’s leading politician to fill the void of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Sánchez wants Spain to have a more influential role in Brussels following the exit of Britain from the bloc.

After years of cordial but sometimes distant relations between France and Spain, the two have grown closer recently.

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Spain, France and Portugal have agreed on a major undersea pipeline to transport hydrogen from the Iberian Peninsula to France and eventually the rest of Europe. The pipeline, dubbed H2Med, will run from Barcelona to Marseille.

The meeting is being held in Catalonia’s National Art Museum, housed in a former palace perched atop the Montjuic hill that overlooks Barcelona. Catalan separatists are rallying outside to try to energize their flagging movement to carve a new state out of this corner of northeast Spain that borders France.

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