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EU "big four" met in Versailles

EU "big four" met in VersaillesThe leaders of the EU biggest economies gathered in France on Monday to endorse the vision of a multi-speed Europe, in which some countries could deepen integration faster than others.

Ahead of a summit in Rome to celebrate the EU’s 60th anniversary later this month, the heads of Germany, France, Spain and Italy met in the Palace of Versailles.

Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Mariano Rajoy and Paolo Gentiloni sought to answer the big questions surrounding the future of Europe and which path it should follow.

“Versailles is charged with history,” said François Hollande. It was in Louis XIV’s palace that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1918, at the end of the First World War. The choice of location was clearly meant to evoke the gravity of the situation, as was the pomp with which the summit was carried out.

The French president stressed that the Rome summit should serve as a recognition that Europe cannot afford to take for granted the achievements of the last 60 years, such as peace and human rights.

“We cannot simply commemorate, together we have to reaffirm our commitment for the future,” Hollande said.

“We should have the courage to allow some countries to move ahead, to advance more quickly than others. Cooperation can be kept open to those that have fallen behind,” Merkel said.

“We need a stronger, more coherent Europe,” the German chancellor added.

Her priorities for the Rome summit – like Hollande’s – are defence, the economy, security and immigration. She made a point of stressing that “development in Africa has been insufficient in recent years”.

Italy’s Gentiloni meanwhile urged “a more integrated European Union”, albeit with “different levels of integration”.

“If there was no EU we would feel the loss,” he said, adding that the bloc should think “far into the future”.

“We need a social Europe which focusses on investment and growth,” he added.

Rajoy emerged as the most convinced Europhile of the quartet.

“My preferred option is to aim for deeper integration,” he said, backing the fourth option in the European Commission’s White Paper.

No concrete project was announced after the meeting in Versailles. There had been speculation the leaders would shy away from making specific proposals to avoid antagonising member states who resist the multiple-speed concept, including many in Eastern Europe.
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