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South Europe leaders to seek stronger EU after Brexit shock

© AFP/File | Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will gather with other leaders of southern EU nations to back greater EU integration after BRexit

MADRID (AFP) - 

Leaders of southern EU nations will meet in Madrid on Monday in a show of unity and to back greater EU integration after Britain began the process of leaving the bloc.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the leaders of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta will gather at El Pardo palace outside Madrid.

The meeting will be a chance to "launch a message of unity and commitment to the project of European integration at a decisive moment in our history," the office of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a statement.

"Europe must continue to work to address the issues of greatest concern to its citizens and strengthen its project of integration," the statement continued.

Also on Monday's summit agenda is the issue of immigration, of particular interest to southern EU states which are on the frontline of the problem.

The leaders will also discuss economic, social and defence policies.

The meeting of the leaders will be the third by the group following gatherings in Athens in September and Lisbon in January.

Southern European leaders have sought at past meetings to forge a common front on growing challenges, from the refugee crisis to Brexit, and to counter the influence of nations in northern Europe within the bloc.

The date of the Madrid meeting was announced on March 29, the day that Britain formally began the two-year process of quitting the EU.

The Syria crisis will also be discussed in Madrid, a French diplomatic source said.

© 2017 AFP