Angela Merkel has described Brexit as a “deep break” in the European Union’s history of integration.
She warned that it was important to find a careful answer to Britain’s eventual departure, and that people would only choose the EU if it helped them to prosper.
The German chancellor was in Warsaw meeting leaders of Central European states from the Visegrad group – Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was part of her diplomatic tour ahead of next month’s summit in the Slovakian capital on the future of the union.
“I am very happy that Bratislava will be the host city of our forthcoming European summit because our tradition of meeting in Brussels results in a lack of opportunities to see people’s real lives and sometimes we are out of touch with what Europe is really about,” Merkel told a joint news conference in Warsaw.
The Bratislava meeting of 27 EU member states – without Britain’s presence – will be a major test for EU unity. Merkel said it should be the beginning of a new listening process.
While some countries want further integration after the Brexit vote, newer members in the east say more power should be devolved to national capitals.
The Warsaw meeting also heard calls for a new European army. Hungary’s prime minister said he wanted security to be a priority for the EU.
“Our first proposal is to maintain the current European economic policy based on rigour, stability, structural reform. What we would like to treat as a priority is defence. We should start building a European army,” Viktor Orban said.
Orban, whose call was backed by his Czech counterpart, has said Hungary will build a new even bigger fence on its southern border to prevent a further influx of migrants.
Merkel was due to fly to Berlin to meet northern European leaders from Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands. On Saturday she is scheduled to end the ‘Brexit tour’ by seeing leaders from Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia.