Paolo Gentiloni suggested Brexit and the election of Donald Trump was a ‘window of opportunity’
Despite admitting the “European project does not enjoy great consensus lately”, the Italian leader signalled the remaining 27 EU member states could use the historic Brexit vote to push ahead with greater integration between some countries.
Having earlier held talks with Theresa May in 10 Downing Street, Mr Gentiloni later told students at the London School of Economics the upcoming EU summit in Rome at the end of next month will be “a great opportunity” to set out plans for the bloc’s future.
Answering questions at the end of his speech this afternoon, Mr Gentiloni was asked whether member states were now seriously discussing the prospect of an EU army.
The Italian prime minister replied: “Are we serious in the integration? My answer could be we will see.
“I think we have a window of opportunity. Why? Because of the Brexit decision and also what happened in the US election could be a wake-upt call for the EU.
He signalled EU member states could use the Brexit vote to push ahead with greater integration
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“Obviously they are also a problem for the EU but they are very clearly a wake-up call.”
The Brexit decision and also what happened in the US election could be a wake-up call for the EU
Mr Gentiloni claimed the EU was “beginning to understand” its march towards “ever-closer union” is “not easy” for all 27 member states.
He claimed there was the “potential to go forward among different member states” in areas of deeper integration, highlighting how the EU’s treaties already allowed countries to be signed up to differing levels of co-operation.
Mr Gentiloni described how some EU members are still outside the eurozone and the bloc's borderless Schengen Zone.
Mr Gentiloni and Theresa May held talks at 10 Downing Street earlier today
Using the “example” of EU security and defence policy, the Italian leader claimed President Trump’s conflicting comments on continued US support for NATO had alarmed European countries.
He said: “It is obvious that when we hear from the other side of the Atlantic there is perhaps a less relevant commitment on NATO from the US side – and we will see – there is again a wake-up call.”
The Italian prime minister admitted that ‘European projects does not enjoy great consensus lately’
Mr Gentiloni revealed he was “frequently” reminding fellow EU leaders the process of European integration had begun in the 1950s with proposals for a defence community, but these had been blocked by France.
He said: “It is astonishing that now there is an awareness – especially among the main member states of the EU including France – on the fact that we have to go forward on security and defence.”