Europe Seeks Life After Brexit as Merkel Meets Allies at Sea

European Leaders Meet Off Italian Coast
  • Renzi hosts Merkel, Hollande on Italian warship off Naples
  • Talks to focus on Brexit, growth, migrants, terrorism

The Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi usually patrols the Mediterranean as the flagship of the European mission to save shipwrecked refugees. On Monday, it will host the leaders of Germany, France and Italy as they try to ensure the European Union doesn’t founder in the aftermath of Brexit.

The meeting of Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Matteo Renzi off the coast of Naples will be rich in symbolism.

The Garibaldi, named after the general who helped unify the Italian state in the 19th century, is tackling one of today’s greatest challenges to the European project in migration. Before they are helicoptered aboard from the island of Ventotene, the leaders will visit the grave of Altiero Spinelli, an anti-fascist who helped draft a 1941 manifesto calling for a federal Europe. Spinelli wrote on cigarette papers smuggled out of a prison camp on Ventotene while interned during World War II and later became an EU commissioner.

The present-day leaders of the euro area’s three biggest economies will focus on both the future vision of Europe and immediate challenges such as Britain’s vote to leave the EU, economic growth, terrorism and political turmoil in Turkey, as well as migration. They’ll hold a news conference and then have dinner on board the Garibaldi, seeking to shape where Europe goes from here and the EU’s negotiating stance toward the U.K.

“There’s an awful lot of countries and all of them have slightly different things on their agendas,” Rob Carnell, chief international economist at ING in London, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “It’s going to be hard for them to come up with any conclusive ‘This is what we need to do,’ because they’re all going to disagree.”

Merkel Whirlwind

For Merkel, the meeting marks the start of a whirlwind week of diplomacy. Criss-crossing Europe, she will talk to another 13 leaders between Wednesday and Saturday as she canvasses opinion before more concrete discussions at a summit of 27 member states in Bratislava next month. That event is planned to discuss a path forward for the EU without Britain.

“She wants to have as broad a discussion as possible with as many of the actors involved,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Friday.

Europe’s divisions range from refugee resettlement to monetary policy and how to spur growth. Populist parties are strengthening from France and Italy to formerly communist Eastern Europe, Germany and France hold elections next year while Renzi, the Italian host, faces a stalled economy, a banking crisis and a constitutional referendum expected in November.

For Merkel, her European diplomacy marks a break from domestic challenges ahead of state elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania on Sept. 4. The chancellor’s approval rating has declined since she welcomed about 1 million refugees to Germany last year, while European officials are concerned the EU’s deal with Turkey to stem migrant flows through Greece may be in jeopardy following the failed coup attempt last month.

Budget Divisions

As ever, relaunching the EU economy may be a divisive topic. Italy wants European governments to do more to boost economic growth and is anticipating resistance from Germany, though French officials are expecting to find a budget formula that can keep both their counterparts happy without bending the rules.

“We seek a different, more expansionary economic policy at the European level,” Sandro Gozi, Renzi’s junior minister for European affairs, said in an interview. “On this there is agreement with the French. There is work to be done with the Germans.”

Reflecting the threat of terrorism, Gozi also called for “a Schengen of security and defense” to allow EU states to reinforce their cooperation as they do in the Schengen open-border area.

French officials say there may be few developments on Brexit itself because EU members are waiting for the U.K. to start the formal process. Talks may begin in earnest in the early part of next year, with British Prime Minister Theresa May triggering Article 50, the exit mechanism, by April, two U.K. officials said last week.

In an interview posted on her party’s website on Thursday, Merkel said she regretted the “irreversible” Brexit decision. “Now we have to negotiate according to our own interests,” she said.

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