E.U. Closes Ranks on Brexit

British EU flag ap
The British flag was not required anymore at Wednesday's meeting of the heads of state and government of the remaining 27 E.U. countries.


The leaders of the remaining 27 E.U. members states have met for the first time without Great Britain, six days after the bloc’s second-largest economic power voted to leave in a historic referendum.

“This is a very exceptional moment,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference in Brussels. None of the 27 member states, however, currently support reforming the E.U. treaties in response to Britain’s exit, she said.

The E.U. heads of state and government closed ranks in their response to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave. During their informal meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, they made clear that E.U. law will continue to apply in Britain until London negotiates an exit treaty.

“Europeans expect us to do better when it comes to providing security, jobs and growth, as well as hope for a better future.”

27 E.U. Heads of State and Government

“Until the U.K. leaves the European Union, E.U. law continues to apply to and within the U.K., both when it comes to rights and obligations,” the 27 heads of state and government said in a joint statement.

They also called on Britain to activate “as quickly as possible” Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which initiates exit proceedings. The European Union wants to begin exit negotiations this fall.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, stressed on Wednesday that there will be no negotiations with Britain over the conditions of its exit before London officially started the process. Mr. Juncker added that he warned all the European Commissioners not to start any negotiations with British representatives before Article 50 is activated.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was not invited to Wednesday’s meeting of E.U. heads of state and government for the first time, said in London that he was still hoping for informal negotiations to begin earlier.

The remaining member states backed the position, articulated by Ms. Merkel, that the United Kingdom cannot cherry pick what it likes and doesn’t like about the European Union.

“Any agreement, which will be concluded with the U.K. as a third country, will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations,” the 27 leaders said in their Wednesday statement. “Access to the single market requires acceptance of all four freedoms.”

British leaders such as former London Mayor Boris Johnson have suggested that the United Kingdom can negotiate access to the single market without allowing the free movement of E.U. citizens. The free movement of people is one of those four freedoms.

Poland and the Czech Republic held E.U. Commission President Mr. Juncker responsible for Britain’s decision to leave and called for his resignation. But the attempt to oust Mr. Juncker failed after he received backing from European Council President Mr. Tusk.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tried to use the opportunity to negotiate a relaxation of the European Union’s stability pact, which limits euro-zone members’ budget deficits to 3 percent of gross domestic product.

Britain in Europe-01

Mr. Renzi is trying to secure E.U. approval for a €40-billion ($44-billion) plan to stabilize Italy’s banks. Ms. Merkel rejected the Italian prime minister’s call for more flexibility in the stability pact.

“The stability pact already has sufficient flexibility,” Ms. Merkel said. Leaders can’t re-negotiate the European Union’s rules for dealing with troubled banks every two years, she said.

In their joint statement, the 27 heads of state and government acknowledged the growing popular dissatisfaction with the European Union.

“Europeans expect us to do better when it comes to providing security, jobs and growth, as well as hope for a better future,” they said. “We need to deliver on this, in a way that unites us, not least in the interest of the young.”


Ruth Berschens is a Handelsblatt correspondent in Brussels, Till Hoppe reports for Handelsblatt from Berlin. To contact the authors:;

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