(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s Mediterranean countries ganged up to ask for less austerity and more money for southern economies that suffer the most from the influx of immigrants, high unemployment and brain drain.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hosted fellow leaders from nations that are the worst-hit by a wave of refugees from Syria and Northern Africa. France’s Francois Hollande, Italy’s Matteo Renzi, Portugal’s Antonio Costa, Malta’s Joseph Muscat, Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus. Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, who’s had a prickly relationship with Tsipras, sent a deputy minister in his place.
The fight is on for what shape the European Union will take in light of Brexit, with economies great and small jockeying for a say. After Germany’s Angela Merkel made a diplomatic push to solicit ideas last month, the seven southern nations are trying to increase their leverage at next week’s key summit in Bratislava that will chart a roadmap for the 27-nation alliance minus its second-biggest economy.
Their common demand is for a doubling of an investment plan that at the moment stands at 315 billion euros ($353 billion) over a space of three years and “more ambitious initiatives” for jobs for young people. They also want an external border force set up by the end of the year, and more intelligence sharing on terrorism.
“Southern countries have had several difficulties to tackle, notably on migration and refugees and so we have decided that we will bring our own thoughts and conclusions to Bratislava on this,” Hollande told a joint news conference after the summit in the Zappeion Hall, where the ceremony marking Greece’s entry in the European Community was held in 1979.
In an allusion to the EU’s tight budgetary corset, Renzi stressed that “we are in a phase in which Europe cannot keep being just rules, technicalities, finance and austerity.”
The leaders said they would meet again Portugal, with a view to further sharpening a shared vision on migration, security and economic growth. They also showed an eagerness to move on from the U.K. vote, urging Britain to trigger exit talks “as soon as possible.”
As head of Europe’s biggest economy, it’s been Merkel who has been setting the tone and the agenda for the first summit without the U.K. in more than four decades. She embarked on a whirlwind tour of the bloc’s capitals to canvass opinion, from the east come calls for ighter barriers against migration and from the south an appeal for laxer budget rules.
For starters, her government has signaled that the U.K.’s negotiations to leave will be “very difficult” and that Prime Minister Theresa May won’t be allowed to “cherry pick.”
Brexit has triggered a realization that the EU needs to refocus on policies of greater relevance to its 500 million inhabitants. Among the plans up for discussion are closer military cooperation, sharing terrorism intelligence and the introduction of systematic checks and electronic registration of people entering and leaving at airports and other border points.