In a speech setting out the future direction of the bloc, Jean-Claude Juncker said the UK’s exit would be a “sad and tragic” moment but it was “not the be all and end all”.
During the annual state of the union address, he insisted the “wind is back in Europe’s sails” and countries were knocking on Brussels’ door to do trade deals with the EU.
Setting out hopes for closer integration, Mr Juncker announced plans to increase passport-free movement around the EU, expand use of the euro and boost the number of member states.
And he suggested the EU could take more control over economic policy in eurozone members, setting out a prospectus that would have been impossible had the UK voted to remain a member of the bloc.
But the hour-long speech, which ranged over areas as diverse as the quality of fish fingers to plans to create a super-presidency role, Brexit was given a notably short slot near the end.
Mr Juncker said: “This will be a very sad and tragic moment in our history. We will always regret this, and I think that you will regret it as well, soon.
“Nonetheless we have to respect the will of the British people. But we are going to make progress. We will move on because Brexit isn’t everything, it’s not the future of everything, it’s not the be all and end all.”