European chiefs greet vote with resolve and dread

The European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker. Picture: Getty
The European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker. Picture: Getty
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European leaders reacted with a mixture of dismay and resolve to the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

However, some expressed dread, with debt-crippled EU member Greece issuing among the starkest warnings.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, before speaking to journalists. Picture: Getty

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, before speaking to journalists. Picture: Getty

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who last year presided over the country’s exit from the Eurozone, said the result “confirms a deep political crisis, a crisis of identity and strategy for Europe.

“The British referendum will either serve as a wake-up call for the sleepwalker heading toward the void, or it will be the beginning of a very dangerous and slippery course for our peoples.”

German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said: “The exit of the UK is a shrill wake-up call for European politics.

“Whoever doesn’t listen or takes refuge in the usual rituals drives Europe into a wall.”

The UK “didn’t vote against Europe, but against the way it’s been configured up to now.”

Aspirant EU member Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said: “This is the biggest political earthquake since the fall of the Berlin Wall and there is no doubt that it will leave significant consequences.”

Polish President Andrzej Duda said the EU must act to prevent any other members leaving.

He said: “We must do everything to avoid the domino effect, a situation when other member nations also say that they don’t want to be in the European Union any longer.”

Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of non-EU Norway, acknowledged the vote would be “a boost for extreme forces that want less co-operation in Europe.” She said they were “anti-establishment, anti-globalisation, anti-EU forces...that can be pretty extreme.”

The result prompted opposition parties in several countries to step up their agitation for similar referenda.

In Denmark, Pernille Skipper of the left-wing Unity List, called it “the only consequence of the British results”.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said her National Front was the country’s only political party to take the possibility of a British exit seriously, and she reiterated her call for a similar referendum in France, calling it “a democratic necessity”.

There were similar sentiments from Dutch populist right-wing politician Geert Wilders.

He said: “The British people defeated the political elite in Brussels and in London and now they are in charge again. Now it is our turn.”

The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats tweeted that “now we wait for #swexit!”

However, the EU’s biggest players expressed determination to prevent further destabilisation of the bloc.

EU President Donald Tusk said: “It’s true that the past years have been the most difficult ones in the history of our union.

“But I always remember what my father used to tell me: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU was strong enough to find the “right answers” to the UK’s decision to leave.

She voiced “great regret” at the move and said the EU must aim for a “close” future relationship with the UK.

Germany had a “special interest” and a “special responsibility” in European unity succeeding, she said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for a swift UK exit, “however painful that process may be”, adding: “Any delay will unnecessarily prolong uncertainty”.

He said the “new settlement” agreed with the UK in February “will now not take effect and ceases to exist. There will be no renegotiation”.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi called for “calm and lucidity”.

He said: “Europe is our home... that of our children and grandchildren.

“The house must be remodelled, maybe freshened up, but it’s the house of our tomorrow.”

Spain renewed its claim over Gibraltar. Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil said: “I hope the joint sovereignty formula, or to put it clearly, the Spanish flag on the Rock – is much closer rather than further away.”

But Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of the British overseas territory, whose 30,000 residents voted by 96 per cent to remain in the EU, said: “Gibraltar will never be Spanish, in whole, in part or at all.”