Jean-Claude Juncker.jpg

Britain will not get unlimited access to the lucrative EU market if it does not allow other Europeans to enter its territory freely, the head of the bloc's executive said Wednesday, as he laid out his vision for its post-Brexit path.

Britain is keen to maintain access to the 440-million-people market when it withdraws from the European Union, following a shock decision taken by its voters in June. Brexit supporters had campaigned against access by EU workers to the British labour market.

But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said there will be "no internal market a la carte" in the EU.

"Only those who feel bound by the freedom of movement of people and workers can have unrestricted access to the internal market," he said during his annual state of the union speech, delivered at the European Parliament plenary session in the French city of Strasbourg.

Leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, who is a member of the EU legislature, argued that such a stance would hurt European exporting nations more than Britain.

"[It] will inevitably drive us towards no deal – no deal and trading on WTO rules," Farage said during the debate following Juncker's speech, referring to the World Trade Organization. "For hundreds of thousands of German car workers and French wine producers, potentially it's very bad news because we are their biggest market."

The state of the union speech is meant to help set the direction of the EU for the coming year. This year's edition came two days before all EU leaders except for British Prime Minister Theresa May meet in Bratislava to chart the post-Brexit course of their bloc.

The EU and Britain have to maintain an "amicable" relationship, Juncker said. He noted that people outside Europe are wondering if Brexit will mark the beginning of the end for the bloc.

"I say here and now: We at the same time respect and regret the British decision, but the EU's existence is not at risk," he stressed.

However, Juncker acknowledged that the bloc is not currently "in top form" and is facing on some aspects an "existential crisis."

He called for more "solidarity-driven cooperation" among EU member states and laid out a laundry list of new measures that the bloc should pursue, including stepped-up investments, border security and military cooperation.

The latter is an endeavour that Britain has traditionally been averse to. Juncker said the EU should have a single headquarters for its civilian and military missions, as well as common military assets.

The call for more European projects was welcomed by EU supporters in the parliament, with liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt saying the blow of Brexit should be turned into "a success for Europe."

But it was derided by eurosceptic members of the legislature, who have seen their cause bolstered by the Brexit vote.

"Today was billed as a relaunch, but sadly it's fundamentally the same mantra we've heard year after year," British conservative leader Syed Kamall said.

"Your solution, whatever the problems or the circumstances, is more Europe," France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen told Juncker. "But this Europe that 'protects' us, ... no one believes in it anymore."

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