Less than a week after Britain's shock decision to leave the European Union, the first consequences were drawn Wednesday as the bloc's remaining leaders gathered in a show of unity that excluded British Prime Minister David Cameron.
British voters decided to leave the EU in a June 23 referendum. With that vote, the 28-member EU is poised to lose a country that boasts one of the world's top five economies, United Nations veto powers, nuclear capabilities, a strong army and a world-class financial industry.
"The outcome of the [British] referendum creates a new situation for the European Union," leaders said in a statement. "We are determined to remain united and [...] stand ready to tackle any difficulty that may arise from the current situation."
"Nothing should keep Europe from advancing," French President Francois Hollande declared.
Leaders met in an unusual 27-member format that, in a sign of things to come, excluded Britain, a member of the bloc since 1973.
Cameron bid farewell to his EU peers on Tuesday, after a meeting he described as dominated by "sadness and regret."
The EU 27 renewed calls on Britain to activate "as quickly as possible" proceedings to leave the bloc, spelling out that "there can be no negotiations of any kind before this notification has taken place."
Turning to internal affairs, the leaders acknowledged that "many people express dissatisfaction with the current state" of the EU and said they had launched "a political reflection to give an impulse to further reforms."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel explained that this would not entail any rewriting of EU rules. "These treaties are a very, very good foundation," she said. "We would really be doing the wrong thing if we start a treaty discussion again."
Providing more "security, jobs and growth" were listed as priorities in the leaders' statement, but no concrete initiatives were agreed. More talks were scheduled to take place on September 16 in Bratislava, Slovakia.
EU President Donald Tusk said migration had to be brought under control, noting it was "absolutely clear that irregular migration was and is one of the most important reasons for this crisis of self-confidence in Europe."
In the run-up to the summit, a Franco-German paper laid out a broader reform agenda, including an expansion of EU military and anti-terrorism capabilities and the creation of a eurozone fund by 2018 to support economies in crisis.
The foreign ministers of France and Germany, the EU's leading powers, said in their paper that progress should be possible even if not all member states are on board - a view shared by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as he spoke in Brussels.
Countries that want to integrate more quickly should "be able to do so without being hindered by those who choose to take a bit more time to advance," Michel said. Central and Eastern European member states are suspicious, though, of such moves towards a "two-speed" Europe.
In addition to negotiating with Britain and bringing their house in order, EU leaders might also have to contend with demands from Scotland. After its voters rejected Brexit, the nation is considering moves to split from Britain and remain an EU member.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon held talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Parliament President Martin Schulz in Brussels on Wednesday, with a view to protecting Scotland's place in the EU.
"I am not here to make an argument for independence. ... I am here to make an argument that Scotland should stay in the EU," Sturgeon later said, adding that she does not "underestimate the challenges" that Scotland faces to remain in the bloc.
"Scotland won the right to be heard in Brussels," Juncker said ahead of their meeting, while adding: "We don't have the intention [...] to interfere in the British process."
US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, said he had advised European leaders to "catch their breath" as they craft an orderly plan for the transition. He said he was reassured by Merkel that the continent is not interested in "retribution" but in making sure the process works.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - 07:17