Europe divided, Juncker urges post-Brexit EU to unite

PHOTO:Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

PHOTO:Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

European Union chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker warned divided Europeans on Wednesday that their Union was in an “existential crisis” after Britain’s vote to quit and said leaders must pull together to stop it unraveling.

In his yearly State of the Union address to the European Parliament, the Commission president said the bloc was not about to disappear – “the EU as such is not at risk” – but its ability to steer common policies was jeopardize by splits, so that it was “at least in part, in an existential crisis”.

Though addressed to mainly sympathetic EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, his message was aimed squarely at the 27 national leaders who will meet on Friday in Bratislava to try and find a way forward following the decision of the absent 28th member state, Britain, to leave the bloc in June’s Brexit referendum.

“Never before have I seen national governments so weakened by the forces of populism and paralyzed by the risk of defeat in the next elections,” said the former Luxembourg premier, a 30-year veteran of EU politics, referring to eurosceptics across Europe drawing inspiration from the British rejection of the EU.

“There are splits out there and often fragmentation,” he added. “That is leaving scope for galloping populism.”

The coming year sees Dutch, French and German elections, and anti-EU groups are riding high in polls. That limits appetite for big ideas from the Commission, however much Juncker sees his role as delivering proposals that governments can unite around.

While leaders were chasing votes by echoing eurosceptic opponents, Juncker said, only by cooperating to revive growth, strengthen trade, fight terrorism and secure EU borders could they “regain the trust” of citizens in their shared enterprise.

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