Post-Brexit Talks: EU Leaders To Discuss Gameplan

My Sweet FM

A tiny island off the west coast of Italy is the unusual but symbolic setting for a summit of three key European leaders today.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will welcome the French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the island of Ventotene, 40 miles off the coast of Naples.

The leaders of the eurozone's three largest countries are gathering to discuss the European Union's future direction amid a growing eurosceptic climate across the bloc as well as the ongoing migration crisis and stresses in the eurozone economy.

Britain's decision to leave the European Union with the Brexit vote in June is the most extreme example of established eurosceptic rumblings across the continent. 

It is the second time the three leaders have held trilateral talks since the Brexit vote. They met in Berlin four days after the 23 June UK referendum vote. 

At that meeting, the leaders said: "Today, we express our firm commitment to the unity of Europe. We firmly believe that the European Union is essential to make our countries stronger by acting together, with our common institutions to ensure the social economic progress of our peoples and to affirm the role of Europe in the world."

Monday's meeting comes ahead of an informal European Union summit in the Slovakian capital Bratislava at the end of the month to which the UK has not been invited. It will be the first full summit by a union of 27 members states rather than the full 28 members. 

The main aim of the island meeting is to prepare a united roadmap for Brexit amid clear differences over the process and speed of the British withdrawal. 

A number of EU countries have called on the UK to immediately invoke Article 50; the official notification of a decision to leave the bloc. 

The working assumption is that Britain will trigger Article 50 at the end of this year or the start of 2017, beginning the two-year exit negotiations.

However, there are growing suggestions within Westminster circles that Prime Minister Theresa May is considering delaying the trigger until after both the French and German elections in May and September respectively. 

There have been concerns that Mrs May's two Brexit departments, the Department for Britain's Exit from the EU and the Department for International Trade, will not be in a position to begin their work satisfactorily by the end of this year. 

European leaders have different views on when Article 50 should be invoked. Germany's Angela Merkel is said to be more sympathetic to Britain's need for time to work out its future relationship with the EU.

Italy's Prime Minister Renzi had called for an early implementation of Article 50 but, according to some reports, he is now willing to back Angela Merkel's offer to give the UK more time in return for her cutting Italy some slack on its budget deficit issues. 

Regardless of the timetable, there is believed to be some frustration among EU leaders over the lack of clarity from the UK about what it actually wants out of the relationship. 

The dual location of the meeting is highly symbolic. The leaders fly by helicopter from Naples first to the island of Ventotene, a tiny Mediterranean outcrop just three kilometres long and less than a kilometre wide. 

The island meeting will be followed by a visit to the Italian aircraft carrier the Giuseppe Garibaldi. 

Ventotene is a symbolic choice for the meeting because it was where Italian intellectuals Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi were imprisoned by Benito Mussolini during the Second World War. 

From their cells on the island together they wrote what became known as the 'Ventotene Manifesto', an early call for the unification of Europe against the fascism of Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. 

The document said: "The question which must be resolved first, failing which progress is no more than mere appearance, is the definitive abolition of the division of Europe into national, sovereign states." 

It was that sentiment which Brexit campaigners latched onto; some argued that Europe's direction put it on course to become a superstate. 

In reality, the prospect of a United States of Europe looks far from likely given the growing eurosceptism across the continent, not just among electorates but some governments too. 

The leaders will discuss how to strike a careful balance in negotiations with Britain; how to deliver a fair deal but not one so fair that it encourages other European electorates to flirt with their own European exits.