Participants sit ibn the meeting room at Belem cultural center in Lisbon on January 28, 2017, during the Southern EU Countries Summit. Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa meets with the leaders of six other southern European nations including France and Italy in a summit that is expected to push for action to boost flagging growth in the bloc and fight the ongoing migration crisis.
PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP
Leaders of seven southern European Union nations met in Lisbon on Saturday, seeking a united front against Brexit and the new protectionist administration of US President Donald Trump.
The mostly centre-left leaders taking part — the second summit of southern EU leaders in four months — are also expected to renew action to boost flagging growth and tackle the migrant crisis.
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa shook hands and embraced Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, French President Francois Hollande and the other leaders as they arrived.
Faced with the rise of “protectionism and populism”, the EU needs urgent reforms to “surpass the economic, social and political legitimacy crisis which is weakening it,” Costa said ahead of the event.
Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta are the other countries present.
Hollande warned Friday after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin that Trump’s administration poses “challenges” to “our trade rules, as well as to our ability to resolve conflicts around the world”.
Trump has rattled America’s traditional European allies with a range of radical policy plans.
He has called NATO “obsolete”, announced he would rip up a planned transatlantic trade plan and supported Britain’s move to leave the EU, calling it a “wonderful thing” on Friday during a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem warned Thursday that Europe was “on its own” after Trump took over as US president, but said it could be an opportunity to strengthen the EU.
The Lisbon summit is a follow up to a first gathering in Athens in September 2016 as part of a push by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to create a strong southern “axis” to counter the influence of nations in northern Europe.
The group is often referred to — sometimes dismissively — as “Club Med”, even though one of its members, Portugal, is not on the Mediterranean.
– Politically weak leaders –
It includes some of the nations hardest hit by the financial crisis.
Portugal and Greece both got international bailouts worth tens of billions of euros which came with demands for tough austerity measures and economic reforms.
The leaders will issue a joint statement after the meeting. It is expected to focus on the need to boost growth and investment in Europe. Economic growth “must be at the centre” of the EU’s policies, Gentiloni said Friday in Madrid after talks with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
He also urged Brussels to show “flexibility” when it enforces deficit rules. “Simply I think Italy needs expansionary economic policies,” he said.
The Lisbon summit comes ahead of a February 3 meeting of EU leaders in Malta to look at the future of the bloc without Britain, its second-largest economy and its richest financial centre.
Analysts said forging a common front will be hard as southern EU nations have different priorities and many of the leaders who will be at the Lisbon summit are politically weak.
Hollande is not a candidate in France’s presidential election later this year and his Socialist party is trailing in the polls.
“So whatever Hollande promises or agrees this weekend will probably be forgotten by the middle of the year,” Adriano Bosoni, senior Europe analyst at US private intelligence firm Stratfor, told AFP.
“The Italian government is also fragile. The Greek prime minister is struggling to keep his government alive,” he added.