EU vows to deepen ties
The Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi in 2004. Source: Wikimedia
The European Union must deepen cooperation on defence and intelligence to combat Islamism and other threats, the French, German and Italian leaders agreed, insisting that they were not disheartened by Britain’s June 23 vote to leave the bloc.
On the deck of an Italian aircraft carrier, the Giuseppe Garibaldi, Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and Matteo Renzi acknowledged that the EU faced forces of “disintegration” and significant threats, including terrorist attacks, the Syrian civil war and the migrant crisis.
The Garibaldi is a symbolic venue, as it coordinates the EU’s migrant rescue operation in the Mediterranean, amid fears that Islamic extremists could enter Europe disguised as refugees.
Merkel, who is known to back stronger EU defence plans, called for more intelligence sharing.
“We feel that faced with Islamist terrorism and in light of the civil war in Syria, that we need to do more for our internal and external security,” she said.
Hollande also called for greater cooperation as France reels from a string of terror attacks in recent months. “Europe must ensure its own defence, and France is certainly playing its role,” Hollande said.
“I also insisted on defence, because we want to ensure that there is greater co-ordination there, extra means and forces.”
Plans to move forward with an “EU army” would be easier when Britain had left the EU, said a former head of the Italian military.
General Vincenzo Camporini, former chief of the general staff, said London had blocked a common defence policy for years. “Every step forward was blocked. The British position was crucial – everyone knew that without London, you couldn’t even begin to talk about a common European defence policy,” he told La Repubblica. “Many people felt that after Brexit, Europe would come to an end, but that is not the case. We respect the choice made by the British citizens, but at the same time we want to be able to turn the page on a new future.”
Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia group, said: “The French and Italians both want something Mrs Merkel cannot deliver – for the French, it’s more economic integration for the Eurozone and for the Italians want more flexibility to tax and spend but she will only pay lip service to these demands.”
Sky News’ Mark Stone, reporting from Ventotene, said: “They were utterly defiant in their view that this is the beginning of a new Europe, not the beginning of the break-up of Europe, even though they’re well aware of a rise in nationalism right across Europe.”