Big Three in­sist EU “not over” af­ter Brexit

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The lead­ers of France, Ger­many and Italy re­it­er­ated on Mon­day that Bri­tain’s de­ci­sion to quit the Euro­pean Union would not kill the bloc. Merkel sug­gested she could be flex­i­ble over EU bud­get rules, as Rome grap­ples to kick­start its stalling econ­omy, the EU news and pol­icy site EurAc­tiv re­ported.

Speak­ing on board an air­craft car­rier an­chored off the Ital­ian is­land of Ven­totene, one of the cra­dles of the dream of a united and in­te­grated Europe, the lead­ers vowed to strengthen the Euro­pean project fol­low­ing the Brexit vote.

“Many thought the EU was fin­ished af­ter Brexit but that is not how it is,” host Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi said.

Call­ing out the con­ti­nent’s eu­roscep­tics, he said it was “easy to com­plain and find scape­goats.”

The EU “is the an­swer” to Europe’s prob­lems, ce­mented “peace, pros­per­ity and free­dom,” he ac­cord­ing to AFP re­ports.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel re­called that the EU had been born from some of the “dark­est mo­ments” of Euro­pean his­tory, a ref­er­ence to World War II.

Echo­ing Renzi, she said the time had come to “write a bet­ter page” in Euro­pean his­tory.

French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande warned that Europe was faced with a risk of “frag­men­ta­tion and di­vi­sion.”

It needed a “new im­pulse” on three fronts: the econ­omy; de­fence and se­cu­rity; and en­sur­ing jobs and ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple, Hol­lande said.

The three lead­ers were speak­ing ahead of a work­ing din­ner aboard the Ital­ian air­craft car­rier Giuseppi Garibaldi as the sun set over the Naples coast. In a sym­bolic move, the Ital­ian PM ear­lier took his guests to the tomb of Altiero Spinelli, a found­ing fa­ther of the ideal of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion.

Renzi called the meet­ing in a bid to forge a com­mon po­si­tion on the EU’s fu­ture ahead of a sum­mit of the 27 re­main­ing states in Bratislava on Septem­ber 16.

Europe’s eco­nomic out­look, ji­hadist at­tacks, the refugee and mi­grant drama, the Syr­ian con­flict, and re­la­tions with Rus­sia and Turkey were also dis­cussed. for it said,

The Brexit vote has raised fears of sim­i­lar ref­er­enda in other coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly the Nether­lands, which op­poses changes to the EU to achieve closer in­te­gra­tion.

But com­ing up with a road map ac­cept­able to all will not be easy.

The Czech Repub­lic, Hun­gary, Poland and Slo­vakia vowed af­ter Bri­tain’s vote to draw up their own plans for a less cen­tralised EU.

The Ven­totene trip was the start of an in­ten­sive tour for Merkel as she at­tempts to co­or­di­nate a re­sponse to one of the EU’s big­gest crises in decades and quell fears Ber­lin wants to mo­nop­o­lise the de­bate.

Renzi, who is cam­paign­ing for greater flex­i­bil­ity on EU deficit rules to help his flag­ging econ­omy, said “we need strong mea­sures to re­launch growth and fight youth un­em­ploy­ment”.

Rome is seek­ing a new deal with the Euro­pean Union to al­low it to boost its weak econ­omy with an ex­pan­sion­ary 2017 bud­get. An Ital­ian min­is­ter sug­gested ear­lier in Au­gust that this could mean let­ting the 2017 bud­get deficit run higher than pre­vi­ously planned, pos­si­bly up to the 3% of GDP ceil­ing en­shrined in the euro­zone’s Sta­bil­ity Pact.

Merkel gave strong back­ing to Renzi, sug­gest­ing she could be flex­i­ble over EU bud­get rules.

“Mat­teo Renzi has ini­ti­ated coura­geous re­forms in­clud­ing the jobs act here in Italy. It won’t show re­sults within four weeks but it sets the pa­ram­e­ters for a sus­tain­able and suc­cess­ful Italy.

“I am do­ing ev­ery­thing in my power to sup­port him with this,” she said.

Asked about flex­i­bil­ity Renzi is seek­ing to fi­nance in­vest­ment in 2017 to kick­start Italy’s timid eco­nomic growth, Merkel sig­nalled her open­ness.

“I think the Sta­bil­ity Pact has quite a lot of flex­i­bil­ity that we can use in a clever way. That is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the (Euro­pean) Com­mis­sion – it’s not one (EU) mem­ber state that de­cides vis-a-vis an­other. Hol­lande called for an EU in­vest­ment fund for in­fra­struc­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, re­search and in­no­va­tion to be beefed up.

All three lead­ers have been hit in the polls by vary­ing toxic com­bi­na­tions of refugee cri­sis, eco­nomic slump and ter­ror at­tacks, with euroscep­tic or pop­ulist par­ties gain­ing ground.

Their room for ma­noeu­vre is re­stricted. Next year will see a gen­eral elec­tion in Ger­many and pres­i­den­tial and leg­isla­tive elec­tions in France.

Af­ter a se­ries of deadly at­tacks by the Is­lamic State, the three lead­ers are also ex­pected to explore greater co­op­er­a­tion on counter-ter­ror­ism and an in­te­grated Euro­pean se­cu­rity and de­fence pol­icy – a cher­ished ob­jec­tive that some an­a­lysts say could be eas­ier to achieve af­ter scep­ti­cal Bri­tain de­parts.

“In light of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism and the civil war in Syria, we have to do more to en­sure our se­cu­rity. We should in­crease co­op­er­a­tion on mat­ters of de­fence and the shar­ing of in­tel­li­gence,” Merkel said.

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