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The leaders produced no clear rehaul 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 unprecedented vote to leave. The 27 remaining presidents, chancellors and prime ministers said they’re “absolutely determined to remain united”, EU Council President Donald Tusk said.
They met without British Prime Minister David Cameron, who left Brussels on Tuesday night without any clear divorce plan, fending off pressure for a quick exit and punting the complex departure negotiations to his successor. In Britain, nominations opened Wednesday for a new Conservative leader to replace him after his devastating political miscalculation in calling last week’s referendum.
Other EU leaders warned the UK that if it wants to continue to enjoy the seamless single market after its departure, it would also have to accept that EU citizens can continue to enter Britain. That’s the crux of the current tensions: Britain’s “leave” vote hinged on concerns about migration from poorer EU countries.
The leaders emerged insisting that the “four freedoms” central to European unity are indivisible: the free movement of people, services, goods and finances.
“If they don’t want free movement, they won’t have access to the single market,” French President François Hollande said, adding that the City of London would no longer be able to act as a clearing house in euros.
‘Wake up and smell the coffee’
The EU leaders were focusing Wednesday on how to deal with the rest of the continent now that Britain is leaving. There’s a widespread sense that the post-war project to foster peace via trade has become a bureaucratic, undemocratic behemoth with little meaning for its 500 million 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.
To allow the status quo to continue, Hollande warned, would benefit populist forces that seek “the end of Europe”.
“We all need to wake up and smell the coffee,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said.
Other EU countries are now facing calls for referendums on quitting the bloc. Popular French far-right leader Marine Le Pen pressed unpopular Hollande in a weekend meeting for such a vote in France, but his government has rejected the idea.
Tusk convened a special EU summit on September 16 in Slovakia’s capital to work out a plan forward to keep the EU united.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the lesson from Britain’s departure isn’t necessarily either deeper integration or returning more powers to national governments. She said Wednesday: “this is not about more or less Europe as a principle, but about achieving results better”. She said that combating youth unemployment, for example, could involve both scrapping EU directives and deepening European cooperation.
Hollande said one measure he wants considered in Bratislava 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,” Hollande said. “Europe must show its solidity.”
Scottish first minister meets with Juncker
However the 27 remaining EU members remain divided over how to deal with migration. Central European nations led by Hungary refuse to accept imposed EU refugee quotas, and countries further north have all tightened border controls in response to the arrival of more than 1 million migrants last year. Britain is more concerned about EU immigration, since its strong economy draws hundreds of thousands of workers from other EU nations.
The shock British vote has roiled markets and had an impact on Europe and beyond. It overshadowed all the discussions Wednesday in Brussels, because it will rob the EU of its richest financial market, biggest military power and a diplomatic giant. It could also prompt an unravelling of the UK.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met Wednesday in Brussels with European Parliament President Martin Schulz and is meeting later with the leader of the EU executive, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Scottish voters overwhelmingly chose to remain in the European Union but were drowned out by English voters. Sturgeon has indicated there may be a new referendum on Scottish independence.
“It was a good opportunity for me to set out Scotland’s position and Scotland’s desire to remain within the European Union and to protect our relationship with the European Union,” Sturgeon said after meeting Schulz.
She added: “I don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead for us seeking to find a path.”
Hollande insisted the EU will make no advance deal with Scotland.