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Europe plans for life after Brexit as Merkel meets allies at sea
[ROME] 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 is named after the general who helped unify the Italian state in the 19th century and today it is tackling one of the 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.
Mr 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 talks between Europe's present-day leaders will focus on both the future vision of Europe and immediate challenges such as Brexit, economic growth, terrorism and the political turmoil in Turkey, as well as migration. The three heads of government will hold a news conference and then have dinner on board the Garibaldi.
For Ms 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," Ms Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Friday.
The German chancellor has had to balance her international efforts with domestic concerns ahead of state elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania on Sept 4.
Ms Merkel's approval rating has declined since she welcomed about a million refugees to Germany last year. 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.
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, Mr 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."
Mr 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. European nation states are seeking new ways to collaborate to bind the bloc more tightly together following the UK's decision to leave.
French officials say there may be few developments on Brexit itself because EU members are waiting for the UK 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 UK officials said last week.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven on Sunday urged the UK not to introduce dramatic cuts to corporate taxes in the run up to Brexit.
In an interview posted on her party's website on Thursday, Ms Merkel said she regretted the "irreversible" Brexit decision.
"Now we have to negotiate according to our own interests," she added.