The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sought to rally the EU, shaken by Britain’s decision to exit the bloc, in his annual policy address.
Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg he said that he regretted Brexit but it would not lead to the break-up for Europe. Though he added, it faced a battle for survival with rising nationalism.
“The European Union is currently not in top condition. Many things did not change for the better. Some developments suggest that in some areas we are being faced with an existential crisis of the European Union.”
He also warned Britain that single market access didn’t come “a la carte”, and that free movement of people was a part of it.
In response to Juncker’s speech, Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt said that Brexit presented an opportunity for Europe to reinvent itself. Verhofstadt is the European Parliament’s negotiator in Brexit talks with the UK.
Far-right Front National MEP Marine Le Pen said she would organise a referendum for France on its membership of the EU. In a speech following Juncker, she said: “Let nations free themselves, let them work with each other as they wish, better than Brussels can.”
Faced with growing tensions across borders and a rise in populism due to the migrant crisis, Juncker urged member countries to work together.
“When it comes to managing the refugee crisis we have started to see solidarity. I’m convinced much more solidarity is needed but I also know that solidarity must be voluntary. It must come from the heart. It cannot be forced, it cannot be imposed.”
The speech comes two days ahead of an EU summit in Bratislava where 27 EU leaders will meet without Britain, to prepare the union for a future without the UK.
Council President Donald Tusk published an invitation letter to the 27 heads of state and government ahead of the meeting. In it he said: “Our objective in the future negotiations should be, on the one hand, to establish the best possible relations with the UK; on the other hand, however, we should stick to the Treaty and be coolheaded, consistent, and fully united as well as firm in insisting on a balance of rights and obligations. If we do so, there will be no room for doubt that it is a good thing to be a member of the Union.”
He added that the lessons of Brexit must not be ignored.