European Commission head and former Luxembourg PM, Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday issued a rallying cry for unity after Brexit, saying the EU was not in danger of splitting up but needed to work together.
Unveiling a host of economic and security policies in his annual State of the Union speech in a bid to find common ground, Juncker urged the bloc to fight back against rising nationalism.
“The European Union still does not have enough union,” Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
“There are splits out there and often fragmentation where we need further union that is leaving space for galloping populism,” he said.
Juncker’s speech comes two days before the 27 EU leaders meet in the Slovakian capital Bratislava without Britain, for a summit aimed at drawing up a roadmap for the future after Brexit.
The head of the EU executive urged Britain to trigger its formal divorce as quickly as possible for the benefit of both sides.
“We respect and at the same time regret the UK decision, but the European Union as such is not at risk,” said Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg.
He said he wanted ties to “remain on a friendly basis” but warned London could not expect access to the EU’s single market if it brings back immigration controls.
But the difficulties of keeping Europe united post-Brexit were underscored on Tuesday when Luxembourg’s foreign minister said Hungary should be suspended from the EU for violating democratic values and treating refugees like “animals”.
Juncker warned against “nationalism” and called on member states to work together to keep the EU relevant.
“The next 12 months are the crucial time to deliver an EU that protects and preserves the European way of life, that defends our citizens at home and abroad, and takes responsibility,” he added.