EU leaders have spelled out stark conditions for a new relationship with departing Britain, warning that if UK businesses want to keep their access to Europe’s single market, the country must accept European workers too.
The leaders produced no clear route forward 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 are “absolutely determined to remain united”, European Council president Donald Tusk said.
They met without Britain for the first time, but the UK was top of the agenda. The leaders emerged insisting the “four freedoms” central to European unity are indivisible: the free movement of people, services, goods and finances.
There is 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.
“We all need to wake up and smell the coffee,” Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite said, citing immigration as being a key reason for Britain’s departure.
Other EU countries are now facing calls for referendums on quitting the bloc.
Popular French far-right leader Marine Le Pen pressed unpopular president Francois Hollande in a weekend meeting for such a vote in France, but his government has rejected the idea.
Mr Tusk has convened a special EU summit on 16 September in Slovakia to work out a plan to keep the EU united.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the lesson from Britain’s departure is not necessarily either deeper integration or returning more powers to national governments.
She said: “This is not about more or less Europe as a principle, but about achieving results better.”
Combating youth unemployment, for example, could involve both scrapping EU directives and deepening European co-operation, she added.
Mr Hollande said one measure he wants considered in Bratislava in September 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.Italian premier Matteo Renzi added that the EU should provide young Britons with provisions to continue to feel “part of the great European family”, despite Britain’s vote to leave.
He said these provisions could include special “ad hoc” citizenship measures that, for example, would enable them to study in EU universities.
He said: “There is a significant part of public opinion and Europe’s ruling political class that has understood that we have to strongly relaunch the Europe that we believe in, the one that wants to talk about values, that wants to talk about more than just procedures and rules.”