Sunday 11 December 2016

Leaders' bid to relaunch EU project at iconic site

Nick Squires

Published 22/08/2016 | 02:30

The summit comes at a difficult time for all three premiers, but for Mr Renzi in particular. Photo: Simona Granati/Corbis via Getty Images
The summit comes at a difficult time for all three premiers, but for Mr Renzi in particular. Photo: Simona Granati/Corbis via Getty Images

A volcanic outcrop adrift in the cobalt blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea, it seems at first glance a curious place for a crucial post-Brexit European Union summit.

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But it was on the island of Ventotene that a group of Italian politicians, who had been interned by Benito Mussolini during the Second World War, hatched a vision of a free, united, democratic Europe that eventually evolved into the European Union.

It is that spirit of optimism that Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, will try to tap into when he gathers with Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel on the island off Italy's west coast today.

Symbolic

For a Europe that has been wounded by Britain's vote to leave, the choice of Ventotene is symbolic - one of the internees was future statesman Altiero Spinelli, who in the darkest days of fascism and Nazism wrote a text now known as the Ventotene Manifesto, calling for a free, federal Europe.

Seventy years on, the three leaders will lay a wreath at Spinelli's tomb as they begin their bid to relaunch the European project in the wake of Brexit.

They are expected to discuss the implications of Brexit and the timetable for when it will take place, as well as the vexed issue of how to promote economic growth whilst keeping within tight budgetary constraints.

EU diplomatic sources said that the trilateral summit among Europe's three major post-Brexit powers would not discuss the specifics of any possible deal with the UK, since Britain had still not decided what kind of relationship it wanted with Europe.

However, the leaders are expected to discuss how hard to push Britain to set out its stance for the negotiation and to begin formal divorce proceedings with the EU by invoking Article 50.

After reports that Britain was considering delaying until after the French elections next June, both German and Italian ministers have warned there are limits to how long Europe can wait.

British officials told the 'Daily Telegraph' that Europe had softened its stance after initially demanding the UK move quickly following the June 23 vote, but said no decisions have been made on the timing of any declaration.

The three leaders will also discuss how the remaining 27 EU nations can present a positive economic and security agenda at an informal summit in Bratislava next month.

The summit comes at a difficult time for all three premiers, but for Mr Renzi in particular. The Italian economy, the third largest in the eurozone, continues to flatline and Italian banks are saddled with ¤360bn of problematic loans. His Democratic Party suffered humiliating defeats in municipal elections, losing Rome and Turin to the anti-euro, anti-establishment Five Star Movement. He also faces a referendum on constitutional reform, the loss of which could see his resignation and replacement by the Five Star Movement.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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