angela merkel.jpg
Photograph: EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

Germany, France and Italy are "united" - even in the face of British plans to exit the European Union - and aim to set a "new impulse" for the bloc to boost security, economic growth and competitiveness, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday.

Merkel spoke after meetings with French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and EU President Donald Tusk that were overshadowed by divisions on whether to pressure Britain into a quick divorce.

"We must work together to counter centrifugal forces" within the EU by "setting a new impulse" to pursue a common security agenda on fighting terrorism, forge integrated refugee policies and boost economic growth and competitiveness, Merkel said.

All three leaders insisted there would be no informal talks about the Brexit until Britain gives formal notice to the EU by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would lock the country into a two-year timeline to negotiate its exit.

Merkel has attempted to rein in pressure on London to move quickly.

"We cannot afford a deadlock, ... but I have some understanding for the fact that Britain is taking a certain amount of time to analyse the situation," Merkel said during a press conference earlier Monday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday repeated that he would leave the decision to initiate Article 50 to his successor, whom he initially said was unlikely to be chosen before his Conservatives' party conference in October.

However, a key party committee said nominations would be taken this week, with plans to have a new leader in place by September.

During the first address to British lawmakers since the country voted to leave the EU on Thursday, Cameron said that Britain would not give formal notice "at this time," as it must first "determine the kind of relationship we want with the EU."

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned the EU against a "revengeful" approach and called on leaders to act in a "responsible, sensitive" and strategic manner.

"I think it is absolutely essential that we stay focused on how, in this transitional period, nobody loses their head, ... people don't start ginning up scatterbrained or revengeful premises," Kerry said during a visit to Brussels.

Renzi, speaking in the Italian Senate before flying to Berlin, said that "the last thing Europe should do is embark on a discussion on procedures for a year."

This week's EU summit should "be about the relaunch" of the European project and "not just about exit procedures" for Britain, Renzi said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said during the weekend that divorce proceedings with the EU should be triggered in the coming days, but Merkel said later that rushing into an exit would be unwarranted.

In an interview with broadcaster France 2, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said "there is no difference between France and Germany" regarding the timeline for Britain's withdrawal.

"Should Great Britain go quickly? Yes. France, like Germany, says that Britain has voted [and that] Brexit should be implemented starting now," he said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, speaking to reporters in New York Monday, said countries need to focus on salvaging what is left of the EU and stand firm against voices aiming to cause further disarray.

"We have to be united," Linkevicius said. "It could be a chance for those who believe that it should work for the European project to really, in spite of everything, make it a success."

Linkevicius said he had held a conference call earlier Monday with his counterparts from northern Baltic countries to discuss their efforts to stay united in the face of Britain's decision.

Merkel, Hollande and Renzi will attend an EU leaders summit in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday alongside counterparts from the other remaining 24 EU member states.

The possibility of Britain handing off its EU presidency, due to take place in the second half of 2017, will also be discussed at the summit, EU sources said.

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