EU leaders have spelled out stark conditions for a new relationship with departing Britain, warning that if UK businesses want to keep their access to Europe’s single market, the country must accept European workers too.
The leaders produced no clear route forward for their shaken union after an unusual and emotionally charged summit, but agreed they must make it more relevant to citizens and keep it from disintegrating after Britain’s vote to leave.
The 27 remaining presidents, chancellors, and prime ministers said they are “absolutely determined to remain united”, said European Council president Donald Tusk.
They met without Britain for the first time, but the UK was top of the agenda.
The leaders emerged insisting that the “four freedoms” central to European unity are indivisible: The free movement of people, services, goods, and finances.
There is a widespread sense that the post-war project to foster peace via trade has become a bureaucratic, undemocratic behemoth with little meaning for its 500m citizens.
The initial EU founding nations in the west lean towards a tighter, closer union, while newer nations in the east want to keep more control with national governments — notably of their borders.
“We all need to wake up and smell the coffee,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, citing immigration as being a key reason for Britain’s departure.
Other EU countries are now facing calls for referendums on quitting the bloc. Popular French far-right leader Marine Le Pen pressed unpopular President François Hollande in a weekend meeting for such a vote in France, but his government has rejected the idea.
Mr Tusk has convened a special EU summit on September 16 in Slovakia to work out a plan forward to keep the EU united.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the lesson from Britain’s departure is not necessarily either deeper integration or returning more powers to national governments. She said: “This is not about more or less Europe as a principle, but about achieving results better.”
Combating youth unemployment, for example, could involve both scrapping EU directives and deepening European co-operation, said Ms Merkel.
Mr Hollande said one measure he wants considered in Bratislava in September is making it possible for all young people in the EU to have the option of studying or spending time in another member country of the bloc.
“The coming weeks will be decisive,” said Mr Hollande. “Europe must show its solidity.”
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the EU should provide young Britons with provisions to continue to feel “part of the great European family”.
He said these provisions could include “ad hoc” citizenship measures that, for example, would enable them to study in EU universities.
He said the leaders agreed Europe cannot allow negotiations on Brexit to drag on forever and cannot “pretend like nothing happened”.
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