LISBON, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- Southern European leaders called for a united EU to fight terrorism, boost growth and find a solution to the migrant crisis at the Southern EU countries summit in Lisbon on Saturday.
Seven leaders of EU countries met on Saturday, including host Portugal, Cyprus, Spain, France, Greece, Italy and Malta.
The informal meeting focused on the future of EU in the context of Brexit, as well as migrations, safety and defence, and U.S. President Donald Trump's administration.
"During these times of worldwide uncertainty, we need a stronger and more united Europe," Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said at a press conference, pointing out that it was vital to defend values of democracy and free trade.
"We have to deliver clear responses to reinforce the confidence of our citizens," he said.
Costa pointed out that essential areas were growth, employment and convergence, as well as internal and external security and the management of migrations.
French President Francois Hollande pointed out that Europe had to embrace freedom and democracy.
"Europe is not protectionist, it isn't closed, it has values and it has principles," he told journalists. "The EU is a force, a guarantee and a protection. It is a space of freedom and democracy."
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades highlighted the need to fight against populism and to regain the confidence of EU citizens.
"Soon we will continue to work in Malta and in Rome to recover our reliability and to take concrete measures to fight against unemployment and create conditions for investment, improving internal and external security for a Europe that corresponds to everyone's vision," he said.
He added that he was grateful for the EU's understanding in relation to the political situation in Cyprus and hoped that the divided island would soon gain peace.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pointed out that the EU had to continue to focus on people's "real problems" and supporting European integration.
He also pointed to the need to solve the refugee crisis and fight against terrorism, as well as boost economic growth and employment. Rajoy said youth unemployment was one of his main concerns.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Europe needs southern EU countries in order to manage the refugee crisis more efficiently, and to reinforce its role of peace and stability.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni highlighted that 2017 didn't have to be a year of "crisis" and said the seven southern EU countries would be making a "roadmap of confidence, hope and peace."
The leaders, mostly centre-left and struggling with debt, also met to find a way to boost growth. Both Portugal and Greece had to ask for international bailouts when they were on the verge of bankruptcy.
The initiative of the Southern EU countries summit was started by Tsipras, with the previous meeting taking place in Athens in September 2016.
The event in Lisbon was a follow up to the meeting in Athens.
Following the press conference, the seven countries said in a joint press release that they were ready to begin negotiations following British decision to leave the EU.
"The United Kingdom has brought a useful clarification of its intentions on its future relationship with the European Union. We are ready to begin negotiations after receiving the Article 50 notification with the hope to have the UK as a close partner of the EU," the statement reads.
The meeting on Saturday came before EU leaders meet in Malta on February 3 to discuss the EU without Britain.