Cover image via Reuters

Angela Merkel has met with French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, in the first of a series of discussions between European heads of state aimed at protecting the European Union from the aftershock of Brexit.

The three leaders met at mini-summit on an aircraft carrier off the Italian island of Ventotene, and agreed there must be greater cooperation on defence and intelligence sharing in the fight against Islamist terrorism.

“In the face of Islamist terror and the civil war in Syria, we have to do more for both our internal and external security,” said Ms Merkel, while calling for national intelligence services in EU member states to share information with each other more closely.

In the coming days, Europe’s de facto leader will meet eight more European Presidents and Prime Ministers, as part of a concerted effort to stabilise the bloc.

During the UK’s referendum campaign, the Leave camp repeatedly argued that secret intelligence sharing was not done within the EU but via bilateral agreements between countries. The UK’s intelligence is highly sought after, due to its close links with US intelligence agencies.

Chancellor Merkel is fighting an election campaign next year and she knows there is little will in Germany for further economic integration within the EU, as was proposed by several European finance ministers after the UK’s Brexit vote in June.

The three leaders agreed that more must be done to prevent refugees risking their lives at sea to reach EU nations.

Mr Renzi said 102,000 migrants had reached Italian shores so far in 2016, compared to 105,000 at this point last year, and said help must still be available “to those who really need it.”

French President Francois Hollande said “Europe must protect itself but also welcome those who are pushed into exile often putting their lives at risk.”

Britain will formally remain a part of the European Union for at least another two years, but will need to get used to life on the sidelines. Ms Merkel announced an informal meeting of Europe’s 27 remaining member nations was planned to take place in Bratislava next month. A spokesperson for the German Chancellor said it would be aimed at “starting a mutual process of reflection and becoming clear about which Europe we want.”

“Europe is on the witness stand,” Ms Merkel said. “We respect the Britons’ decision to leave, but at the same time the remaining 27 of us want to show that we are focused on creating a prosperous Europe.”