Leaders of the European Union’s (EU) three largest countries, Germany, France and Italy, met in Italy this week to discuss the way forward following the UK’s shock decision to leave the bloc.

Speaking from aboard an aircraft carrier, off the Island of Ventotene, German chancellor, Angel Merkel, French President, Francois Hollande, and host, Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, expressed their commitment to write a “better page” for Europe.

“Many thought the EU was finished after Brexit but that is not the case,” said Renzi.

“We respect the choice made by the citizens of Britain but we want to write a future chapter. Europe after Brexit will relaunch the powerful ideals of unity and peace, freedom and dreams.”

Hollande said Europe was faced with a risk of “fragmentation and division” and needed to focus on three key fronts: the economy, defence and security, including ensuring a prosperous future for the younger generation.

The EU has been under a state of review since the UK’s decision to pull out. Rating agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P) recently declared it as “unstable” and in need of urgent reform.

The meeting comes ahead of an informal summit next month in Bratislava, which will be attended by the remaining 27 states. The summit will be the first to discuss the process of splitting, in a bloc that has only discussed expansion previously.

The volcanic island of Ventotene was specifically chosen to symbolise the commitment to stay the course with the EU despite the UK vote.

Altiero Spinelli, who is considered one of the founding fathers of the EU, wrote a manifesto when imprisoned on the island during the Second World War by Benito Mussolini. The leaders paid homage to Spinelli by laying flowers, in the colours of the EU flag, during the visit.