Britain's decision to leave the European Union cut deep into the bloc's integration aspirations, which is all the more reason to stick together, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday during a trip to Warsaw to meet with the so-called Visegrad states.
The German premier's talks with her Polish, Czech, Slovakian and Hungarian counterparts is part of efforts to bridge the differences between EU member states ahead of next month's meeting of EU leaders.
Merkel said it was important that EU states "listen to one another in many different aspects" to prepare for this unofficial summit.
At the start of the week, Merkel launched a round of talks with 15 EU government chiefs ahead of the September 16 gathering in Bratislava, which Britain will not attend.
Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said that the expectations for next month's summit were enormous and that there were still many differences among the bloc's members. At the Bratislava meeting, "we want to assess the current status of the EU and find the spots that we need to work on in further meetings," he added.
While Britain was the stated point of Merkel's visit, the EU's migration policy was also a key issue during talks with the Visegrad states. Merkel has faced staunch opposition from the four countries for urging members to share the burden.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, however, expressed a willingness to compromise on the issue, echoing Merkel in her call to strengthen the bloc despite political differences: "To achieve that, we must seek themes that connect us, not those that pull us apart."
But Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski criticized Merkel's calls for unity ahead of her arrival in Warsaw on Friday, saying Germany can be too egotistical when negotiating foreign policy.
"We often feel like they're out to pursue their own objectives," he said. "Of course every nation has that right, but we do expect, to a certain degree, a willingness to compromise on certain issues."
Waszczykowski cited plans for an underwater Baltic Sea gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, which have been sharply criticized by Eastern European countries as an example of Berlin putting itself first, saying the project "damaged Europe's solidarity" for financial gains.
Merkel also addressed security concerns during her Friday visit, admitting that more work was needed on defence policies to improve security at the bloc's external borders.
"The people of Europe will accept Europe only if it stands for a promise of prosperity," she said.