It’s no surprise that Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi chose to host a press conference with Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande on an aircraft carrier; this was a piece of theatre designed to show the EU is fighting back. ‘Many thought the EU was finished after Brexit,’ said Renzi. Not so, he claimed. Instead, Britain’s decision to leave the EU was the chance to ‘write a future chapter’ and ‘relaunch the powerful ideas of unity and peace, freedom and dreams’, the Italian PM insisted. All very well, you might think, but what does that mean?
Defending the continent against the threat of Islamic terrorism was a key topic. Angela Merkel called for intelligence services across the continent to share more information to help fight extremism. So far, so sensible. But the meeting between the three leaders also offered up the possibility that plans for an EU army may be moving quickly over the coming months – catalysed by Brexit. Hollande himself said that he wanted ‘to ensure that there is greater co-ordination (with) extra.. forces’. Whilst the former head of the Italian army General Vincenzo Camporini has said that without the UK prevaricating, plans for a common European-wide defence policy can now roll forward. Many Brexiteers will be breathing a sigh of relief at what might have been.
The three leaders also pledged to fight economic inequality in the continent and it’s welcome news that they are finally talking about doing something to tackle youth unemployment across the EU. Across Europe, this stands at 18.6 per cent; in Spain and Italy, it’s 43 and 36 per cent respectively. It seems Europe’s leaders are waking up to tackling a worrying issue.
As well as indicating Europe was fighting back after Brexit, the aircraft carrier which Hollande, Merkel and Renzi used as a platform also had deeper symbolism. The Garibaldi has played a key role in rescuing migrants crossing the Med for a new life in Europe. And Renzi was clear in saying he thought the EU was the ‘solution’ rather than the ‘problem’ in dealing with the continent’s migration crisis.
Yet for all the noble talk, there are challenges and pitfalls ahead. Not least from those who head up the EU itself. Jean-Claude Juncker became something of a symbol during the referendum as a figure who summed up the worst quality of Brussels: its inability to listen. The European Commission President has carried on in much the same vein since Brexit. And yesterday he showed that same hallmark of his by saying borders were the ‘worst invention’ ever dreamt up by politicians. So whilst this display of Merkel, Hollande and Renzi was intended as a show of what the UK will be missing when it leaves – and also a show of how the EU won’t be worse off without us – there wasn’t much on display to worry those who backed ‘Leave’ into thinking Brexit might have been the wrong choice.