Three EU nations pay tribute at symbolic birthplace
The leaders of Italy, France and Germany vowed yesterday to improve Europe's defence and economic prospects as they paid tribute to one of the founding fathers of European unity in a symbolic bid to relaunch the EU after Britain's vote to leave.
Standing silently together, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President FranÁois Hollande placed three bouquets of blue and yellow flowers - the colours of the European Union - on the simple, white marble tombstone of Altiero Spinelli on the island of Ventotene.
Spinelli, along with another intellectual confined to Ventotene in the 1940s by Italy's fascist rulers, co-wrote the 'Ventotene Manifesto' calling for a federation of European states to counter the nationalism that had led Europe to war.
Renzi invited his French and German counterparts to the sun-soaked island off Naples to remind Europe of its founding ideals as the EU forges ahead amid a spate of challenges, from slow economic growth to Islamic extremist violence, after Britain's vote to leave the bloc.
"Many people thought that after Brexit, that Europe was finished. It's not like that," Renzi said after the hour-long summit. "We respect the choice of Britain's citizens, but we want to write a page for the future."
He spoke from the deck of the Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi off Ventotene's shores, another symbolic location given the ship is coordinating the EU's migrant rescue operation in the Mediterranean.
Renzi, Merkel and Hollande all voiced support for improved internal and external defence measures, including better intelligence sharing and beefed-up border defences, following a spate of Islamic extremist attacks in France that have rattled Europeans' sense of security.
Renzi said such measures were an "absolute priority" for the EU going forward.
"Europe should have a framework of protection. For security, we need to have borders that can be guarded," Hollande said. "We also want there to be more coordination in the fight against terrorism."
Merkel said that the European Union is currently facing "enormous challenges" and needed to work together, especially on the security front at home and abroad.
"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. "Defence cooperation ... should be strengthened and the exchanges between our intelligence services must be intensified."
For Merkel, the visit to Ventotene marked the start of a string of meetings with other EU leaders to discuss the post-Brexit EU, with visits to Estonia, the Czech Republic and Poland in the coming days and meetings with the leaders of Slovakia and Hungary in Warsaw.