German, French and Italian leaders hold key talks on future direction of EU

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy will meet today to discuss how to keep the European project together in the second set of talks between the premiers of the eurozone’s three largest economies since Britain’s shock vote to leave the bloc.

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi hosts German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande on an island off the coast of Naples ahead of September’s EU summit called to discuss reverberations from the Brexit vote.

Officials in Brussels and Berlin fear the June 23 vote could lead to a referendum in the Netherlands — a founding member of the union — on whether to also leave the bloc.

“Monday aims to show the unity of Europe’s three biggest countries, but not to create a specific club,” a French diplomatic source said, noting that the aim was to prepare for the groundwork for the Bratislava summit.

Faced with existential risks, Merkel wants to cement “a better Europe” rather than forge ahead with “more Europe”.

Renzi wants Italy to have a strong voice in how the bloc’s future is shaped after Brexit and, according to the French diplomatic source, Hollande wants an EU-wide investment plan to be doubled.

The three leaders differ over how to boost economic growth — which slowed across the 28-nation bloc in the second quarter and stagnated in France and Italy — and cut unemployment.

France supports Renzi’s push for expansionary measures and against austerity, Germany is likely to oppose any undermining of Europe’s deficit and the debt constraints that Italy and France have struggled to comply with.

Italy is eager for greater European consolidation in the wake of Brexit, but Merkel is more concerned about preserving the integrity of the eventual 27-member bloc.

For her it will be the beginning of a whirlwind week of meetings with other European governments that will see her travel to four countries and receive leaders from another eight.

“The goal must first of all be to preserve the status quo and to prevent a further disintegration of the EU-27,” said one EU diplomat.

Renzi chose to meet on the island of Ventotene because of its symbolic significance as the place where two Italian intellectuals, held there in World War Two, wrote a manifesto calling for European political unification.

One of the two, Altiero Spinelli, is buried on the island. Lingering threats to the union that emerged long before the Brexit vote are also likely to be on the agenda, including internal and external security after Islamist militant attacks and Europe’s migration crisis.

Emboldened by the Brexit vote, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban has called a referendum on Oct. 2 on whether to accept any future EU migrant settlement quotas as his government steps up its fight against the EU’s migration policies.

The EU plans to offer incentives to African governments to help slow the flow of migrants who have poured into Europe over the past three years, but disagreements on how to handle the situation have laid bare divisions between member states.


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